Cisco chooses Lucent/Rockwell 56k modem technology

Cisco Systems will integrate 56Kbit/sec modem technology into current and future versions of its AS5200 Universal Access Servers. The company has opted to support the K56Flex modem protocol jointly developed by Lucent and Rockwell Semiconductor Systems. The announcement is a blow to modem maker U.S. Robotics., which is trying to establish its x.2 technology as the de facto standard for 56K modems.

Cisco Systems will integrate 56Kbit/sec modem technology into current and future versions of its AS5200 Universal Access Servers.

The company has opted to support the K56Flex modem protocol jointly developed by Lucent Technologies. and Rockwell Semiconductor Systems. At least one analyst says the announcement is a blow to modem maker US Robotics, which is trying to establish its x.2 technology as the de facto standard for 56K modems.

"Cisco is a leader in the market so it's a very big win for them [Lucent and Rockwell]," says Lisa Pilgrim, an analyst at Dataquest Corp.

Cisco servers based on the technology are slated to appear before the end of the second quarter. The company also will integrate K56Flex into the dial access servers recently acquired through its purchase of MICA Blazer.

The 56k technology enables users to download information from the Internet and intranets faster than traditional analog modems, which operate at up to 28.8Kbits/secs. But for the technology to work, the Internet service provider (ISP) and target user must have compatible equipment.

The first 56K modems, due for release at the end of the month, will support either a Lucent-Rockwell technology or U.S. Robotics' x.2, but not both. Consumers, ISPs and makers of networking equipment who want to take advantage of the technology must therefore decide which to support.

Cisco chose K56Flex in part because Microcom Corp. of Norwood, Massachusetts, which supplies modems for its current AS5200 products, is involved in a joint modem development project with Rockwell.

Also, based on market share, Cisco is betting that the Rockwell-Lucent chipset will win out over U.S. Robotics, Cisco spokesman Michael Hakkert said.

Lucent and Rockwell claim a combined marketshare of 70 percent for modems that support their technologies. In addition, Ascend Communications, a leading supplier of dial access servers, supports the Lucent-Rockwell standard.

However, U.S. Robotics has the advantage that its modems are software-based, and can be upgraded more easily, Pilgrim said. Hakkert acknowledged that it will be a difficult task for large ISPs, many of whom are already having difficulties meeting customer demands, to upgrade their servers at the same time.

In addition, U.S. Robotics has the advantage that it makes its own modems, rather than licensing its technology to other companies as Lucent and Rockwell do, Pilgrim said.

U.S. Robotics officials declined to comment on Cisco's announcement, but stressed that by 1998 a common standard is expected to emerge that will be shared by all makers of 56K modems.

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