56K Modems

The past nine months have seen a heavy increase in advertising for the new "56k" or "X2" modems. These modems are designed to provide much faster downloading speeds to users clamoring for faster Internet connections.

While they are capable of faster speeds, there are several caveats to these modems:

  • They only work in some situations, namely where there is only one analog-to-digital conversion between your modem and your Internet service provider (ISP). You cannot obtain 56k-speeds when calling another PC.
  • The modems are legally limited by the FCC to a maximum of 53kbps instead of 56kpbs.
  • While they claim to be twice as fast as previous modems, 56k modems are actually slightly less than twice as fast as 28.8k modems, not the current 33.6k modems.
  • It is frequently difficult to obtain a 56k-speed connection; 40-46k connections are more common.

Also, your ISP must have compatible 56k modems! Currently the "X2" standard from US Robotics/3Com is not compatible with the "K56Flex" standard designed by Lucent, Rockwell, and other modem vendors, and most ISPs support K56Flex over X2. Additionally, some ISPs support a version of K56Flex that is not yet available on many 56k modems. Fortunately, a universal 56k standard is expected to be ratified in 1998, and virtually all modem vendors have promised a free upgrade.

The bottom line is that users demanding additional speed, or users with 14.4k or 28.8k modems, should consider upgrading to 56k. Users with 33.6k modems are advised to wait until the 56k standard is passed next year.

February 1998

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