Published Works,  Technology Column

Tech 24

October 17, 1997
Tech #24

What’s the buzz about 56K modems? Just hype I’m afraid. With promised download speeds twice as fast as the next lower model, the internet could look downright zippy at 56Kbps (kilobytes per second). The problem is, under almost all home use conditions, they just don’t deliver. With technical limitations on the kind of telephone lines run to most homes in Hampton Roads, you won’t see any faster transfer than 33.6Kbps. Probably less if your phone lines have any inherent noise, and that condition is fairly common.

Even under perfect conditions, there are several formats in use for 56K modems depending on the manufacturer. The International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, will finalize a standard sometime in the next three months to a year. Then each 56K modem in use will have to be upgraded to meet the standard. So, if you buy one, there is no question you will have the future hassle of bringing the box back to the store, or mailing it back to the manufacturer. This still does not address the problem of our local phone lines.

 “We don’t even put the 56K in our best custom computer packages.” Fred LeFevre, manager of Infinitech Computers confided. “We recommend the 33.6K. It has the advantage of a well-defined standard, it’s stable and it’s pretty darn fast.” LeFevre took a moment to describe the next wave of fast transfer. “Hold out for the cable modem. It’s not available in Hampton Roads yet, but it will be.” LeFevre is right. Wes Neal of Cox Fibernet made that promise in this column back in June. “Cable modems will smoke the market.” LeFevre added. “Stick with a 33.6 and hold out for the Cable Modem. By the time 56K gets a standard, and they work out upgrades and phone line limitations you’ll end up with a cable connection anyway.” We’ll have an update from Cox here next week.