The 56K Modem Debate - Fact, Fancy or Fabrication ?

Web Master At Work 56K is coming, 56K is coming, well.......maybe. It really depends on who you talk to, or what you have read lately. Much has been said and written about the new 56K modem technology over the past few months. For the most part, much of the information appears to be misleading, inaccurate, or simply pure speculation.

Unfortunately, because the major modem and chipset manufacturers have failed to agree on one single standard for 56K modems, little has been resolved. Of course, this raises many compatibility issues that may take months to sort out.

Although U.S.Robotics (USR) has made the most of an aggressive marketing campaign promoting their X2 protocol, the rest of the modem and chipset manufacturers, who comprise about 80 % of the modem market, have chosen the Rockwell/Lucent technology known as K56flex. Although it is difficult to determine who is telling the least untarnished story, it would seem that the Rockwell/Lucent protocols have the overall speed edge over USR's X2 modems.

Some industry reports credit USR's X2 protocol with a maximum download speed of 53K and an upload speed of 33.6K. The Rockwell/Lucent K56flex protocol supposedly has a maximum download speed of 56K and a maximum upload speed of 40K. To make matters even less clear, Lucent's protocol, which is compatible with Rockwell's k56 Plus, can upload and download at speeds of 44K. USR's 56K protocol is now somewhat uncertain with 3COM's recent bid to purchase USR, and Hayes' pending purchase of Cardinal, the only other modem manufacturer supporting the USR X2 protocol. Both 3COM and Hayes have been early and vocal supporters of the k56flex standard. So, it looks like the battle shaping up is between USR and the rest of the world.

Since a national 56k standard is not expected until much later this year, and an international standard is not expected until 1998, You may want to delay the purchase of your 56k modem until the dust settles. The Federal Communications Commission has set an arbitrary bandwidth limit of 53K...therefore neither of the competing standards can deliver the 56K under these restrictions.

It's also been reported that a large number of Internet Service Providers use USR modems, thus, your ISP may not be able to support the 56KFlex modems. Smaller ISPs may elect not to make the investment in the 56KFlex technology. If you're happy with the ISP you use now, get their advice on which modem standard they believe is best for you when on their system.

Some of the industry wags are saying that anyone who does not need to purchase a new modem, wait at least 6-9 months. By then, the 56k picture may become clearer. If purchasing a 56k modem NOW is in the picture for you, it may be wise to consider purchasing a modem that uses the 56Kflex standard. A list of manufacturers using the Rockwell/Lucent 56Kflex chipsets can be found at and micro/K56flex. These Web sites also provide details about the benefits of 56Kflex.

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