November 1998 - [Page 1] [Page 2] [Page 3] [Page 4]


        By Carroll  Palmer   

     [The  genesis of this article is the talk by Paul McCall at the October, 1998 VBCG meeting and                  a subsequent interview by the Editor  with Mr. McCall.]

Are you a computer user who believes: "You can never be too rich or never have a modem that is too fast!"  Well, we offer no comments about being too rich, but do offer you some on the future value of modems of any speed.  Briefly stated, modems may acquire the technical status of slide rules about as quickly as they  progressed from 14.4 to 56k.  During that short period of time, many of you probably upgraded your modem at least once to get more speed with the thought that faster is better.  But, how far and in that direction is the "state of the art" to go with this speed thing as Paul McCall raised in his talk at the last VBCG meeting?
The message from McCall and other promoters of high speed DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) service is that modems are on the way out as the state of the art for internet connection.  In fact, despite their label, 56k modems are having trouble delivering speeds higher than 40-45 kbits/sec. causing most manufacturers to apply the disclaimer  speeds may vary etc..  This can be due to DSL providers poor performance while they wait to see if they are going to spend the money needed to upgrade their equipment while this modem issue persists.  More typically, the failure to reach 56k speed is caused by the condition of copper wire linking subscribers to their telephone company central offices.
The technical buzzword that defines internet communication speed is bandwidth.  In laymen's terms,  bandwidth signifies how much information can travel on the internet from point A to point B in a given time.  A basic bandwidth unit is T1,  which stands for a transmission speed of  200K bits (more accurately 1540K bytes) per second.   Hence,  bandwidth is measured in multiples or fractions of  T1, e.g., ½T1, T3, etc.  A 56k modem at peak speed handles 56K bits/sec. or roughly ¼ T1.
As McCall reported, there are faster ways to work the internet from a PC, namely, (A) ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), (B) Wireless and (C) Satellite.   For the average PC user, it seems that  the 56K modem is going to be the top speed for modem internet connections and in time will become passé.   For PC users who need  more speed or simply would like to have it now,  this is currently available, but at a price.  However, it appears that future advances will be with ISDN or, particularly, Wireless and Satellite, while advances in modems fade away.  The currently average cost of standard  modem  56k or lower speed connection is $15-20.  Lets look at what the current higher bandwidth connections provide and their cost.
ISDN is a high-speed, fully digital telephone service that upgrades today's analog telephone network to a digital system.  It can operate at speeds up to 128K bits/sec. which makes it about twice as fast as 56k modems.   Connection to the telephone system can be done in a variety of ways with internal or external ISDM adapters.  Operating software and a Web browser are supplied by the ISDM provider.  Pricing varies with location and telephone company, typically in a range about double  current 56k modem cost.  If you want to ob