RealTime IT News

Can v.92 Be Saved?

The future of the breakthrough v.92 dial up modem technology, which has been on thin ice all year, got a boost Tuesday with the news that Compaq Computer Corp. and three other manufacturers would be putting the new modems in upcoming PC shipments.

What's more, the modem maker that started shipping the product, Agere Systems , announced the enhanced modem's compatibility with Cisco Systems, Inc., Nortel Networks, CommWorks and Lucent Technologies.

That compatibility is long overdue, as many Internet carriers were unable and unwilling to offer the speedy dial up service if the people who made their routers and switches couldn't support the technology. It's hoped that a "universal" modem will spark interest in the new technology again.

That's good news for consumers, but even better news for Internet service providers (ISPs) who have been waiting for more than a year to offer the enhanced service to its subscribers.

In the past, ISP response to the offering has been lukewarm to say the least, since none of the major PC makers even carried the v.92 modem in their machines. And since relatively few people knew about the new modem technology to buy it and install it on their own PCs, ISPs figure the return on investment wasn't worth it at the time.

Only one national dial up wholesale company, NaviPath, dared the update, using Lucent-supported v.92 modems on its existing Lucent router network. The company, which was owned by CMGI and backed by Lucent, hoped to lure ISPs that didn't want to update their own networks to buy up NaviPath's virtual POP v.92 services.

The carrier met a wall of ISP indifference and the end result was disastrous, with the company going out of business and forcing those ISPs who were customers to find another POP provider.

With the addition of Compaq, one of the major PC makers in the U.S., that demand will likely increase in the coming months. Three companies will also sell the modem on a retail level: Actiontec Electronics, Inc., Multi-Tech Systems and Zoom Telephonics.

It's uncertain how Compaq, a major NaviPath shareholder, will marry up its new v.92 modem PCs with an ISP. A common tactic by many ISPs like America Online and the Microsoft Network is to bundle their ISP service on the desktop of the PC to lure first-time Internet users.

It seems that was a direction the PC maker was going to take itself. Compaq's ownership of the now-defunct wholesaler would have likely led to deals for NaviPath ISPs who wanted inclusion on the desktop to compete with providers.

Compaq officials were unavailable for comment at press time.

V.92, the successor to the venerable v.90 chipset, is expected to increase the shelf life of the dial up 56K modem, still used by the majority of Internet users today. The biggest knock against dial up, besides slow speeds in comparison to broadband connections like cable and digital subscriber line (DSL) service, has been the inability of the modulator/demodulator (modem) to separate voice and data communications.

With the new technology, v.92 modem users can put their Internet connection on "hold" for 15 minutes while they answer the phone, comparable to services like Pagoo and BuzMe. Other v.92 modem improvements include 40 percent faster connection times to the local POP and upstream speeds up to 30 percent faster.

According to Surinder Rai, Agere general manager of modem integrated circuits, said the new technology is a life saver for families that can't afford two telephone lines: one for the home and one for the PC.

"Think of all the PC users who while surfing the Internet can't receive phone calls because they only have one telephone line," Rai said. "V.92 modem technology solves that problem. This feature is one of the most attractive using V.92 modem technology."

All Agere v.92 modems come with the improved v.44 data compression technology, an update to the v.42 standard tied into the v.90 chipset.