New standard makes 56k modems compatible

Feb. 15, 1998


The United Nations body that examines communications standards, the International Telecommunications Union, recently gave its seal of approval to a standard protocol for 56k modems.

The proposed standard awaits final ratification at the ITU's September meeting.

The ITU's move puts an end the 11-month-long conflict over two incompatible 56k modem protocols -- the K56Flex from Rockwell/Lucent, and the "x2" from U.S. Robotics (now owned by 3Com Corp).

And during the past 11 months, computer users -- and Internet providers -- have had to choose between the two technologies. The result has been confusion, especially since 56k modems are limited by federal regulations to speeds of less than 53k.

Nearly all national Internet providers chose to support one protocol or the other. Smaller providers often chose not to support either until some sort of standard was created.

Market analysts say the competing modem technologies hurt sales of the 56k modems, since consumers had to worry which would wind up as the actual "standard," and whether their investment would pay off in the long run.

The recently approved ITU standard freezes the technical aspect of the 56k modems -- and gives modem makers the green light to begin offering upgrades and modems based on the new standard, dubbed "v.pcm."

Which modem technology won?

According to PCWeek and other tech-minded magazines, neither Rockwell nor 3Com can claim to have been the definitive "standard."

Current owners of 56k modems can find upgrades on the Web for their existing modems.

Look for upgrade software and new modems based on the new standard to hit the stores before the end of March.

Industry watchers warn that consumers will probably see some delays before all Internet providers offer fully compatible 56k access. Some testing will most likely still need to be done by Internet providers to insure total compatibility.

For information on 3Com/Rockwell 56k modems, point your Web browser to

Rockwell can be found online at

OLYMPIC EFFORTS. There's no shortage of online coverage of the Winter Olympics -- including live coverage from Nagano, Japan via the Internet.

Due to the 17-hour time difference, live coverage of events can be tough to find on your local broadcast or cable TV outlet.

Here's a few reliable stops you can bookmark for full coverage of the games, which run through Feb. 22:

--, the CNN/Sports Illustrated Web site offers details about the events and the athletes. You'll find plenty of opportunities to read what other folks think about them, by using the message boards or live online chats.

Point your browser to

-- The Official Winter Olympics site, sponsored by the International Olympic Committee, can be found at

The site offers details on Nagano as well as an online store for Olympic memorabilia.

-- If you're on a busy schedule (and who isn't these days?), you may want to take a moment to sign up for InfoBeat's e-mail news service.

InfoBeat, formerly known as Mercury Mail, will e-mail subscribers summaries of the Olympic games, as well as detailed stories -- all at no charge.

Visit InfoBeat on the Web for details at

-- Yahoo!, the ever-popular World Wide Web directory, also offers news at its Web site. For the Winter Olympics, it is dedicating special coverage, available in English and a number of other languages.

Yahoo!'s coverage of the games can be found at

-- The News-Enterprise Online offers complete Olympic event coverage and medal counts with coverage provided by The Wire.

The Wire is a service of the Associate Press, and offers up-to-the-minute updates on events as well as national and international news.

Visit them on the Web at

NEWTON NEWS. The future of Apple's Newton personal digital assistant (PDA) may be in jeopardy if the company follows the lead it set with its Claris software division.

In its moves to profitability, Apple reorganized its Claris software division, laying off 300 workers in the process.

Apple plans to cut the price of its Newton MessagePad 2100 from $999 to $799 in an effort to compete with the Windows CE handhelds that are flooding the market.

Industry analysts say that Apple is working on a scaled-down version of its Mac operating system, targeted for use in a handheld PDA -- possibly a version of its current eMate handheld.

Newton's sales have been sluggish recently, and competitively priced Windows CE devices are flooding the market and putting the heat on Apple.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to, or visit on the World Wide Web.

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