Regular modems have hit top speed on phone lines

Help Line

January 25, 1999|By JAMES COATES | JAMES COATES,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Several years ago, a new modem would hardly get warm in my PC before a newer and faster model was out: 1200, 2400, 9600, 14,400, 32,000 and 56.6 flew by like leaves in the wind (at about $150 a pop as I tried to keep up).

So where are the new models? Seems like forever since I saw a speed increase, and the Net just keeps getting more demanding.

Before Chicago modem mogul Casey Cowell cashed in a stack of chips higher than the Hancock building as founder and CEO of U.S. Robotics, he used to paraphrase Albert Einstein's dictum about the speed of light. I lost my notebook on that one, but Cowell said something like: ``56 kps! It's not just a good idea; it's the law!''

The physical properties of copper telephone wire and the mathematical realities of data compression dictate that today's 56 kilobits-per-second modem speeds are the maximum possible using analog telephone connections.

The only way to squeeze more binary blood out of the telephone wire turnip is to get gadgets like 3Com's Dual Analog Office Connect modem or Diamond MultiMedia Systems SupraSonic II modem that lets you hook two phone wires into a single computer and share the data transmission in tandem which, when it works smoothly, approaches the same 128 kps that comes with digital ISDN connections, which are far costlier.

I have Windows 98 (hubby has Windows 95). We both share an AOL account and from time to time we each receive e-mails containing a download file called a MIM. We download these files and click on the icon (it looks like a computer) and does it open? No! This drives us nuts. We usually end up deleting the file and don't even get to see what people are trying to send us.

Mail like yours now is pouring in as more people get scanners, digital cameras and video grabbers. Then they try to share the images they create with friends on America Online, where the software often falls down in reading images sent via e-mail.

The culprit is a file format called MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) widely used by Internet service providers outside of AOL that compresses large files and attaches them to e-mail for decompression at the other end.

The fix is to press Control + K (for Keyword) in the America Online software and then type in the word Mime. You will be led to download the needed Mac or PC software and will be viewing those images sent by friends quicker than you can say, ``Why didn't Steve Case do that in the first place?''

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