These days, telecommunications is a little like the old college-age prank involving a dozen drunk freshmen and a phone booth: The more you can squish inside, the better. The same principle applies to the modem as well: It stuffs as much data as possible into as little space as possible. Your phone service is carried into your house on two small copper wires, and the modem’s job is to push the limits of those wires.
Years ago, most modems were limited to a top speed of 2400 bps (bits per second). Oddly enough, this is still basically true today. Modem technology, advanced as it is, relies on 2400 bps as the standard transmission speed. Newer 14400, 28800, and 33600 bps modems get their ferocious speed simply by transmitting multiple channels of about 2400 bps over one phone line. This method is called “multiplexing,” and in the next year it will take a frightening new turn.
The top speed for a regular modem, which uses ordinary phone service, is currently about 33600 bps. ISDN, a specially maintained telephone network, transmits and receives data at a basic rate of 56000 bps. Mere months ago, most industry experts confidently told the world that 33.6 modems were the pinnacle of technology, and that more speed could not be squeezed out of a phone line.
That was yesterday, though. This is today.
Officials with U.S. Robotics, one of the largest modem manufacturers in the world, say they’ve come up with technology that will allow a regular analog modem to perform about as well as an ISDN modemall the way to 56000 bps. Their announcement was followed by a host of announcements from other manufacturers, each promising their own version of the technology early this year.
The news has been met, however, with considerable skepticism in the telecommunications industry. To achieve a speed of 33600 bps, a phone line has to be functioning perfectlythat is, with virtually no loss of clarity. Most residential phone lines are simply unable to perform to such exacting standards. Critics, assuming that 56000 bps would require a similar phone-line quality, charge that people who buy these modems assuming they’ll get the advertised speed will be greatly disappointed.
Despite the nay-sayers, many modem manufacturers have wasted no time in promoting the new technology. Several of them, including Motorola and Best Data, have rolled out promotional programs that will allow trade-ins of a 33.6 modem for a new “K56” modem. Still others will offer competitively priced upgrades.
The first 56000 bps modems will be available in a few months, possibly by February. Although the temptation to buy one might be great, it might be smart to wait for a while to see how well the new models perform first. After all, at a price of nearly $200 each, they don’t quite fit into the impulse-purchase category.
♦ Could the growth of the World Wide Web be slowing down? A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology seems to suggest that it could be. Researchers found that the number of users who said they had used the Web for less than one year declined from 60 percent last year to just over 36 percent this year. The Web-based study had more than 15,000 participants.
Critics have charged that the results of the survey may be skewed because the data was compiled from responses to a Web page. New users, they claim, wouldn’t necessarily know where to look for such a page.
♦ There’s some good news and some bad news for those of you waiting for the new DVD (Digital Video Disc) players to hit the market. The often delayed gadgets are scheduled to hit stores in early 1997, and advertising spots are already promoting them in several national publications. The bad news is that, because of a tiff over copyright matters, the discs will be read-onlythat is, they won’t be recordable.
The consortium of manufacturers developing the DVD originally wanted a unit that could record as well as play the discs. Since the DVD is all digital, however, a recordable disc could easily copy information from other discs. Several manufacturers wanted to use a method called encryption to store securely copyrighted programs on the discs, but federal restrictions on just what type of encryption could be used kept stalling the development process. In the end, Sony decided to go with a play-only DVD unit. It’ll most likely be available in early spring.
♦ Kudos to local Internet service provider EdgeNet Media for doing a fantastic job with a special Christmas Web site (http://santa.edge.net/). Available all through the holidays, this site allowed users to send a wish list to Santa himself, who in turn sent back a personal reply. A special cartoon screen saver was also made available on the site. Although it took time to construct and maintain, it was made available to the Web-going public for freesort of a geeky Christmas present. Let’s hope it’ll be back next year.
♦ The clock is ticking. We’re still looking for Nashville Web pages to include in a special issue due out in January. If you’ve got oneor know of one that we should includedon’t forget to drop us a line at email@example.com.