Much ado about modem upgrades

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Much has been said about modems ‘getting one last upgrade before death by DSL’, courtesy of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

It seemed that voiceband modem had taken a significant step forward, when at a meeting of the working party responsible for specifications in Edinburgh, Scotland, the ITU agreed on three new standards. The meeting was jointly hosted by industry leaders 3Com, Conexant Systems, Lucent Technologies and Motorola.

The new standard V.92 promises to boost upload speeds by 40 per cent on the best connections, which would allow users to log on to the net more quickly. Modems will be able to deal with ‘call waiting’ signals, so that you can put it on hold to take an incoming call, while you are connected to the net.

The meeting also approved recommendations on data compression techniques in V.44, and new procedures for fault-finding in V.59.

Surfers, however, may be reluctant to invest in an analog modem which is only slightly faster than the one they have, with DSL looming on the horizon.

Talking to CRM-Forum, John Magill, the chairman of the working party, said: “It is well understood that V.92 is not going to change the world, and if DSL is available, then that will almost certainly be the technology of choice for the serious user.

“However, many people live and work in areas of the country where DSL is still a long way off – I am one of them. The slow deployment of DSL services will ensure that the voiceband modem will remain the predominant ISP access technology in the UK and in other countries for many years to come. The ‘reprieve from extinction’ for the analogue modem is not a result of any new work by the ITU-T, but rather from the delays in deployment of DSL services by telcos.”

The new data compression recommendation is based on the LZJH compression algorithm developed by US-based Hughes Network Systems and gives an improvement in compression of more than 25 per cent beyond the existing Recommendation V.42bis, and a data compression ratio in the region of 6:1 for a typical web browsing connection.

The result is data throughput rates in excess of 300 kbit/s compared with typical values of 150-200 kbit/s today, reducing download times and speeding up web browsing. These rates are still below those available from emerging DSL technologies, but don’t need any special installation on the part of the network provider, leaving upgrades to the direct control of ISPs and users.

“Much attention is going to DSL technologies these days, but the voiceband modem will remain the pre-dominant worldwide access technology for many years to come and these important new Recommendations will help users to get the most from this technology” said Magill.

The chairman of ITU-T Study Group 16, Pierre-André Probst noted, “These important new features will improve the internet user’s experience by significantly reducing connect times and providing improved access to new Internet services.”

The International Telecommunication Union is a global organization in which the public and private sectors cooperate for the development of telecommunications and the harmonization of national telecommunication policies.

Final approval is expected at the next meeting of Study Group 16 in November.

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