The experts said it wasn’t possible to achieve a 56Kbit/s transfer rate on New Zealand phone lines, but thanks to US Robotics and its “x2” technology, this is now a reality.
For two weeks I have been testing a US Robotics 56K-enabled Courier V-everything 33.6/28.8 external modem. Unfortunately it is not just a simple matter of buying one off the shelf and expecting to log on to your Internet service provider with a 56Kbit/s connection. Your ISP has to support the connection, and at the time of writing only Iprolink (www.iprolink.co.nz) has the setup to cope with this new technology.
I emailed a few other ISPs around Auckland and got a mixed reaction to the 56Kbit/s saga. Voyager is letting its parent company in Australia do the testing of US Robotics x2 modems, and was of the opinion that it would probably end up supporting the commonly available platforms. The big problem is that there is competition from Lucent Technologies and Rockwell Semiconductor Systems with their K56-flex technology, which does the same thing but is not compatible. Iconz is currently evaluating Rockwell K56 Flex modems from Comet, manufactured by a New Zealand company, Comcor Technology.
The US publication Web World has stated that there is smaller than 0.4% consumer demand for ISPs to provide 56Kbit/s modem support in their markets. (Web World customer survey, April 97).
ISPs are content for the moment to take a sit-back-and-wait approach to see the new standard emerge. My advice is to check with your ISP in the first instance to see if they support the digital link at their end, and if at all possible adopt a “try-before-you-buy” attitude, as the weakest link in all of this is going to be the state of the two bits of copper wire snaking their way back to your digital ISP link.
Just to take some of the edge off the hype over these modems, the connection is “asynchronous”, meaning that download speeds of up to 56Kbit/s are attainable but upload speeds are restricted to 33.6Kbit/s.
How fast are they in reality? Well, I downloaded the Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 preview – a 12Mb file, admittedly from a New Zealand site– in just 50 minutes (an average of 4Kbit/s).
At the other end of the spectrum, I waited almost the same amount of time to download an updated Matrox Mystique driver of around 800Kb from that company’s Web site. The same Internet problems are going to affect the new modems. If the lights go out, it doesn’t matter what speed you were downloading at.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is soon to make a decision which looks likely to combine both technologies and is due to appear in January 1998. To assuage user fears, US Robotics says if users lose out it will upgrade their modems to the new standard, at no cost. This should be reasonably painless as US Robotics, new digital modems (the Courier and Sportster models) are software-upgradable through patches from the Internet.
Depending on the model, it is possible to 56K-enable existing US Robotics modems (contact Insite technologies at www.insite.co.nz for details). The new modems are available at a competitive rate: email firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 0-9-302 3332.