New modems speed up traffic on the Internet

Personal Computers

September 30, 1996|By Peter H. Lewis

SOME PEOPLE THINK you cannot be too rich or too thin. On the Internet, where everyone can pretend to be rich and thin, it is commonly agreed that one cannot have too much bandwidth. Happily, new advances in modem technology promise a significant increase in the bandwidth available to typical Internet users next year, at least in theory.

More bandwidth, which for Internet users is typically measured in bits per second, means faster file transfers, better video and sound, more simultaneous opponents in Quake death matches, snappier World Wide Web pages and other desirable things.

For most Internet users at home, bandwidth is determined by modem speed. The most common modems in use today can send and receive 14,400 bits per second (14.4 kilobits) over standard telephone lines.

Newer 28.8-kilobit models, also known as V.34 modems, are now available for as little as $100.

Earlier this year, a new but not universally adopted modem standard called V.34 bis emerged, offering data transmission speeds of roughly 33,600 bits (33.6 kilobits) per second.

V.34 bis is significant for another reason. It stands at what has long been thought to be the end of the line for traditional analogue modems.

According to Shannon's Law, a telecommunications canon first set down nearly 50 years ago by Claude Shannon, 33.6 kilobits per second is very near the theoretical top speed for information traveling on the copper wires of the public switched telephone network. The physical speed limit cannot be exceeded by today's analogue, wave-form modems, except through tricks like data compression.

There are Shannon's Lawbreakers, of course. Several hundred thousand computer users have in recent years switched to ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) phone systems, which bypass traditional phone circuits and by doing so increase data traffic speeds to either 64,000 bits per second or 128,000 bits per second, depending on the user's budget and tolerance for technical mumbo jumbo.

On the horizon, cable television companies are promising a new era of fast Internet connections through devices called cable modems, which in theory will be able to blast millions of bits per second into the home. And farther down the road is ADSL, a technology that promises similar speeds over existing copper phone lines.

Another new type of modem recently appeared on the horizon. Several of the major modem technology companies, including U.S. Robotics, Rockwell International, Motorola and Lucent, all hastily announced this month that they were developing computer modems that use ordinary telephone lines to pump data at speeds of up to 56,000 bits per second.

Steve Levy, a telecommunications analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York, said he believes the new devices, which he unofficially calls V.56 modems, will be widely available by the middle of 1997.

Best of all, Levy said, the new V.56 modems are expected to cost $250 or less, continuing the trend toward cheaper modems with every new generation.

Unlike the modems most PC owners have used since the early days of the personal computer industry, the V.56's are expected to be asynchronous. Data flowing toward the user will move at 56,000 bits a second, while data flowing out will move at 33,600 bits per second.

More details are expected to emerge later this year. In the meantime, any Internet surfers still using 14.4-kilobit or slower modems can do themselves a big bandwidth favor right away by upgrading to 28.8.

Pub Date: 9/30/96

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