Nonstandard 56Kbit/s modem activity stirs controversy

A resolution to the issue of incompatible 56Kbit/s modem technologies may be managed by midyear if vendor politics don't derail standards efforts.

SAN MATEO--IS managers may see a resolution to the issue of incompatible 56Kbit/s modem technologies by midyear if vendor politics don't derail standards efforts. An ad hoc subcommittee of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) is working with network-equipment suppliers and service providers to complete an interim 56Kbit/s standard.

"We hope to have it wrapped up by midyear," says Barry O'Mahony, ad hoc committee chairman and a communications engineer at Intel, in Santa Clara, California.

The TIA plans to present a working paper to kick off worldwide 56Kbit/s standards efforts at a March 17 to 27 International Telecommunications Union meeting in Geneva.

Also, Internet service providers (ISPs) and computer-manufacturer executives that will be affected by the rollout of incompatible modems have informally indicated that they'll help drive disparate camps to a de facto agreement prior to an interim TIA accord.

The formation of a consortium of companies backing the K56Flex technology is to be announced as early as next week, says Dennis Hayes, chairman of modem maker Hayes, in Atlanta.

But manufacturers of modems supporting the incompatible x2 56Kbit/s technology from US Robotics and K56Flex from Lucent and Rockwell are busy rolling out pre-standard products and taking swipes at each other.

"I can tell you ... there is not an agreement," says Casey Cowell, CEO of U. Robotics, in Skokie, Illinois.

"Everyone in the industry is using [K56Flex] except for US Robotics," Hayes says.

Adding fuel to the fire, Motorola late this week filed a lawsuit against US Robotics. In a complaint filed in the US District Court in Boston, Motorola said US Robotics infringed on patents on parts of Motorola's technologies found in the V.34 standard.

The suit also could apply to parts of US Robotics 56Kbit/s technologies that may use V.34 as the upstream signaling method.

Obviously, lawsuits are not going to help companies agree on technology standards. But such agreements remain vital to broad acceptance of 56Kbit/s modem technologies and support from major ISPs.

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