December 5, 1996 7:00 PM ET

Rockwell, Lucent line up key support in 56K modem push
By Scott Berinato

  Although the various expeditions into 56K-bps territory have yet to yield a single modem, Lucent Technologies Inc. and Rockwell Semiconductor Systems today picked up key support for their ideas about how to popularize this breakthrough transmissions technology.

Lucent and Rockwell, which are collaborating on plans to establish an interoperable protocol for 56K-bps throughput called K56Flex, Thursday trumpeted a Who's Who of backers for their month-old initiative. The list includes Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., 3Com Corp., Ascend Communications Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Toshiba Corp. CompuServe Inc., Netcom Communications, PSInet and UUNet Technologies Inc. also signed on.

The cooperation on K56Flex was a "positive industry trend," said Cynthia Schrock, director of communications product marketing at Compaq, in Houston. "Lucent's and Rockwell's willingness to license their technology was a big factor in our supporting [K56Flex]."

Though Schrock said she'd like to see a total standard, "we've not seen a willingness on US Robotics' part to cooperate."

Lucent officials said they have had private discussions with U.S. Robotics Inc. on cooperating with USR's x2 technology but declined further comment.

USR has also participated in the International Telecommunications Union standard talks with the other companies. A company spokeswoman indicated that USR was willing to work with its rivals to smooth away any interoperability problems that crop up in the 56K-bps modem world.

"We've been there from day one," said the spokeswoman, Karen Novak. "Regardless of what the final standard is--even if it's a compromise between Robotics and one or several of our competitors--we'll make it easy for any of our customers to easily upgrade."

The first 56K-bps modems are expected to be available in January.

Hitachi PC Corp.'s notebook computers and Dell Computer Corp.'s Dimension PC line will ship with x2 modems early next year, according to USR officials in Skokie, Ill. Both companies currently ship systems with USR modems included.

The lack of a real standard will hurt consumers, one industry analyst said.

"There's tension between the US Robotics camp and the Rockwell-Lucent camp," said Vern Mackall, an analyst at International Data Corp. in New York. "At the end of the day, it's not going to help users adopt the technology if these guys don't have a standard. Users are confused already."

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