Theres Still Life in Dial-Up

The majority of business travelers, telecommuters and small-business employees still use it.

The majority of business travelers, telecommuters and small-business employees still use it. Homes too far away from the central office or with unsophisticated cable systems do, too. Broadband Internet access is out of reach for the majority of Internet users, either technologically or financially, and that isnt going to change soon.

The market for dial-up modems is expected to continue to grow in the next few years. According to The Yankee Group, the number of dial-up Internet subscribers in the U.S. will grow from 48 million in 2000 to 64 million in 2003. In other parts of the world, the growth will be even more dramatic. Gartner forecasts that the number of subscribers in Asia will grow from 43 million in 1999 to 188 million in 2004. Even with the explosion of broadband, the large majority of Internet users will be using dial-up.

New modem standards from the International Telecommunication Union are making analog modems faster and more convenient to use. The main proposed standard, V.92, realizes such dramatic improvements over the current 56-kilobit-per-second modem standard, V.90, that experts such as Ernie Rapiere at VisionQuest 2000 predict that competition among ISPs will force the adoption of V.92.

Companies such as Cisco Systems that supply access equipment to ISPs have said that they will support the upgrade to V.92, which also validates the transition to the new standard.

What Is V.92?

V.92 is the first major upgrade that most modem owners will be able to download off the Web, thus avoiding the hassle of a hardware replacement or a firmware update. Of course, thats only possible if the modem the user already owns is a software modem. As the arrival of V.92 highlights, software modems now offer an extremely important point of differentiation from their hardware counterparts.

The new features respond to the demands of users for a more satisfying online experience in applications such as uploading large e-mail attachments, Internet applications and online gaming. V.92s quicker startup times, higher data compression and "on-hold" feature counter some offerings from DSL, but have the advantage of not requiring any special installation on the part of the network provider, letting ISPs and users control the upgrades.

Broadband-Like Performance

Here is a closer look at what V.92 modems offer:

Faster uploads: The biggest difference between V.92 and V.90 is the increase in the rate at which data can be uploaded: 48 Kbps vs. 33.6 Kbps, which is the upload rate of the current 56-Kbps modems.

Shorter connect times: V.92 cuts the time needed to establish a connection between the dial-up users modem and the ISP, from about 20 seconds to less than 10 seconds. Since most of the calls that ISPs receive are from repeat customers, V.92 modems learn to recognize a phone lines characteristics, and apply that information to connect future calls over that same line more rapidly.

Modem-on-hold: One of the key attractions of DSL is the ability to use the same telephone line to make voice calls with the modem that is being used to connect to the ISP. V.92 offers some of this same flexibility by allowing users to take or make a phone call without crashing the modem connection.

Higher data compression: A new compression standard, V.44, may yield typical data throughput rates in excess of 300 Kbps. This compared to 150-Kbps to 200-Kbps throughput with the existing V.42bis compression standard.

Built-in diagnostics: Another improvement is a standard for diagnostics, called V.59, which provides end users with new procedures for modem and connection faultfinding, and collects useful information about modem performance. The diagnostics address such questions as: How noisy is the line? How many packets are being dropped? How compressible is my data? This would be especially useful for end users working from home, hotel rooms and other places beyond the corporate firewall, where dial-up is the only connection method. It would also allow ISPs to get important information to help end users troubleshoot any modem problems they may have.

V.92, Yours to Download

The new standards have value beyond just technical features and benefits. They also demonstrate the role dial-up plays in an Internet-driven world.

Finally, the new standards test how willing ISPs, equipment vendors and users themselves are to adapt in the shadow of a broadband zeitgeist. The new standards present ISPs, vendors and users with a truly viable alternative to broadband, based on price, performance and quality of service.