V.90 modems stumble on interoperability

The new V.90 modem standard has not quite solved interoperability issues between the competing 56Kbit/s modem standards, if local experience is anything to go by. It seems to first ISPs to go V.90 have also been the first to encounter the odd wrinkle. And one modem company is warning users to follow instructions for upgrading - or pay the price.

The new V.90 modem standard has not quite solved interoperability issues between the competing 56Kbit/s modem standards, if local experience is anything to go by.

Xtra, which became the first of the big ISPs to go V.90 in mid-July, is pleased with the performance of the new V.90 firmware code for its Max and TNT hubs (released by Ascend on June 1), says Telecom spokesman Glenn Sowry.

But Hayley Bryan of Insite Technology, which represents the 3Com product range in New Zealand, says her company has had interoperability problems using both its own modems and Rockwell-based modems to connect to the Ascend gear.

The Ascend hardware, which is used as a dial-in front end by the country’s three largest ISPs, is based on the Rockwell chipset associated with the K56 Flex protocol in competition with 3Com’s X2 protocol.

Modem vendor Dynalink has also confirmed a conflict between its V.90-upgraded modems and IBM.Net, where users have not be able to achieve better than 33.6Kbit/s connections. A message on the company’s local Web site says Dynalink’s R&D team in Taiwan is looking into the problem and hopes to resolve it soon.

Dynalink also says that users who report rendering their modems inoperable after trying to install the flash upgrade available on the Web site have failed to install new modem drivers as instructed before making the upgrade.

Unlike Clear Net and The Internet Group (IHUG), which also use Ascend gear, Xtra never officially offered K56 Flex connectivity to its customers. Sowry says Xtra trialled K56 Flex “and decided that V90 was worth waiting for”.

Ihug launched its V.90 support last week, and a spokesman said the new code had performed well for users who have upgraded their existing K56 Flex modems.

“It’s been pretty good. There are a couple of teething problems with people finding it difficult to upgrade their modems, and people with long distances between their house and their local exchange are having a few problems as well, but short of that it seems to be working quite nicely. We haven’t had any trouble with dropped connections.”

IBM.Net was able to implement V.90 well before any other local provider because its international gateways are automatically updated from the US. Telecom Networks’ nationwide IPNet service, which is based on 3Com gear, has also upgraded to V.90 using 3Com’s code.

There has been talk in the industry that Telecom Networks has pressured Xtra to adopt 3Com hardware also, but such a move seems unlikely at present.

The other 3Com (or former X2) providers to have gone V.90 are Plain Communications and SouthNet. Internet Prolink, which led the charge in implementing X2 last year, is about to take delivery of V.90 code and begin testing. Voyager, which is offering X2 on Digital hardware, says it will go V.90 “before the end of the year”.

Insite engineer Gareth Hack says the company has been achieving better throughput connecting 3Com modems to 3Com hubs than to Rockwell-based hubs in tests.

On the Rockwell side, ClearNet is testing V.90 but has not committed to an upgrade date and Iconz is expected to have new code on its Cisco gear soon.

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