Date: Fri 24-Apr-1998

Date: Fri 24-Apr-1998

Publication: Bee

Author: CURT

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By Bob Brand

A funny thing happened on the road to higher speed Internet access utilizing

56k modems at home. After an initial flurry of interest in early 1997, it

became apparent that two distinct, non-compatible type of modems were in the


The leading edge ISPs (Internet Service Providers) who opted to offer higher

speed access to their subscribers had to choose between the two camps -- USR

(US Robotics, now 3COM) with their technology named X2 and the

Lucent/Rockwell/Hayes/Zoom/et.al group with technology called K56flex. As a

result of the choice, many people decided just to wait for a unified standard

to evolve. [This topic has been covered in previous articles.]

Well, there is good news and bad news.

As of September, a new standard will be officially available. It is called ITU

(International Telecommunication Union) V.90. The bad news is that those

people who buy a V.90 modem may be disappointed with the performance. If you

are thinking of purchasing a V.90 modem, this may be of interest.

ISP Gear Important

The ISP provides the vital link between your PC and the Internet. When a call

is made from a modem, the ISP's router hardware links the connection between

your PC and the Internet. Until there is a unified standard (V.90), these

routers either support the proprietary X2 or K56flex standards. Once an ISP

makes the decision to upgrade the hardware, it will support the V.90 standard.

However, until then, X2 modems can connect with K56flex routers (and visa

versa), but the speed will only be in the range of 24,000 to 30,000 bits per

second. The reason to purchase a high-speed modem in the first place is to

increase the connection speed to 44,000 to 53,000 bits per second. (Keep in

mind, if your home is located too far from the CO (central office) or SLC

(subscriber line concentrator) you cannot use the higher speed technology.) In

order to increase your chances of getting faster connections, PC users should

determine the type of equipment (USR, Ascend, Cisco, Livingston, etc) that is

used by their ISP before purchasing a 56k modem. Having the ISP state that

they are using V.90 compliant hardware is not enough information.

Jack Rickard

In the March issue of Boardwatch Magazine, editor Jack Rickard explained the

V.90 situation in extraordinary detail. He conducted a vast battery of tests

using modems purchased right off the shelf. The results were rather shocking

to some people in the ISP community. It turns out that many ISPs do not use

USR equipment. Rickard determined that as a general rule, the K56flex hardware

does not perform as well as USR gear. He concluded "...but you will most

likely get the best performance using a modem and technology that matches the

one supported by your ISP. And at least initially, significantly better

performance will be available from 3COM/US Robotics V.90 products." This will

make a lot of people unhappy.

Results So Far

Currently, with an X2 USR Sportster modem, I routinely experience connections

of 48,000 to 50,666 bits per second to three ISPs -- Freewwweb, Netplex, and

SNET. Each ISP uses a preponderance of USR routers. At this writing, only

Netplex (with both USR and Ascend hardware) has upgraded their hardware to the

V.90 standard (however, the others are expected to do so shortly). I have not

been able to upgrade my modem to the V.90 standard yet because USR has not

made it available on their BBS (bulletin board system) for downloading. I will

when it becomes available. Andrew Lindt, the Netplex president, tells me that

the USR hardware appears to give slightly better connections to his equipment

than the K56flex modems. This appears to track with the results from an

Internet Info for Real People reader who purchased a no-name K56flex modem,

yet can only achieve a maximum speed to Erols (a large ISP in the northeast)

of 40,000 bps. Erols routers support the k56flex standard. Erols plans to

upgrade to V.90 within the next few weeks. Perhaps speed will improve then.

Time will tell.

Coming Soon

Shortly, all modem manufacturers will tout their V.90 modems. ISPs will

advertise their V.90 high speed upgraded equipment. Be warned, all V.90

hardware is not equal. To ensure maximum performance, determine the type of

hardware the ISP uses before purchasing a V.90 modem. As results start to come

in, they will be reported here. Good luck.

URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) of interest:





(This is the 100th of a series of elementary articles designed for surfing the

Internet. Next, "Hackers" is the subject on tap. Stay tuned. Until next week,

happy travels through cyberspace. Previous issues of Internet Info for Real

People (including links to sites mentioned in this article) can be found:

http://www.thebee.com. Please e-mail comments and suggestions to:

rbrand@JUNO.com or editor@thebee.com.)