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Dial-up fights back

Good news for analog modems

Despite the funky new super fast broadband offerings from NTL, Telewest and BT, most home Web surfers will still be connecting to the Internet via dial-up at speeds less than 56 kbps this time next year.

Fortunately, while high-speed services creep out at a glacial pace, modem makers will keep selling dirt-cheap, easily installed dial-up modems. And this year they'll quietly make some improvements to the breed.

Analog modems, vendors promise, will offer slightly faster connection and uploading, let you put your Net connection on hold to take a voice call, fax more quickly, and get better at letting you talk over the Net.

And, at least for the next few years, they'll roll off the assembly lines at an ever-faster rate. Market researcher IDC predicts that worldwide sales of analog modems will be 86 million units next year, a growth rate of 13.5 percent over 2000 projections.

IDC predicts that in 2002 that growth rate will slow to 10.6 percent. Nevertheless that total is approaching 100 million devices per year.

This month, modem makers hope to prod the analog modem market when they rally behind yet another modem standard, V.92.

V.92 promises to cut in half the time it takes modems to connect to your Internet service provider. Keeping tabs on your telephone line quality and connection speeds, V.92 modems won't waste time reconfiguring themselves to link to your ISP.

Along with boosting potential upload speeds from 33.6 to 44 kbps, V.92 modems will support Internet call waiting, so you can take a phone call on the line you're surfing on without disconnecting from your ISP.

Internet call waiting works in conjunction with standard call waiting services offered by most telephone companies. When there's an incoming call, up pops a dialog box on your screen. If you want, you can pause your Net connection and answer the phone. When you're finished talking, you'll still be connected to the Net.

The V.92 standard is expected to be approved in June by the International Telecommunications Union. Once that happens, experts say V.92 modems will be available to the consumers by the end of the year.

Of course, that's no help to you until your ISP upgrades to the V.92 standard, and the early polls are mixed.

Last time around, ISPs spent between £2.2 billion and £3 billion worldwide upgrading their networking infrastructure to handle the V.90 56-kbps standard, according to Brad Baldwin, an IDC analyst.

Fortunately, unlike the V.90 standard, V.92 won't demand that kind of over-haul, either by ISPs or consumers. For most, it will simply require a software upgrade.

Further down the road, it's even possible that 56 kbps isn't the end of the line in speed. Tere Bracco, modem expert with the research firm Current Analysis, speculates that analog modems will be made to handle speeds as high as 144 kbps in the next 18 months. "I've been hearing for the past 20 years how modems can't get any faster, and each time they do," she says.

The real question about analog modems is how eager vendors are about pushing the envelope for their products. All agree that the profit potential is far greater with broadband alternatives.


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