February 11, 1998 11:33 AM PST ****3Com Says V.90 Only Interoperability Ag't For Now 02/11/98 LONDON, ENGLAND, 1998 FEB 11 (NB) -- By Steve Gold, Newsbytes. Following on from last week's agreement over the long running battle between the k56flex and x2 56 kilobits-per-second (Kbps) modem camps, Newsbytes got a chance to sit down and talk to the experts at 3Com [NASDAQ:COMS], which took over US Robotics last year. US Robotics, Newsbytes notes, was the prime mover behind the x2 system, which predates the k56flex system from Rockwell and Lucent. While one could be churlish and point an accusing finger at 3Com's US Robotics operation for causing confusion in the market over 56Kbps modem issues, it now appears that last week's agreement at the International Telecoms Union (ITU) was not done for the betterment of the modem industry -- driving the issue was the stark fact that consumers, perhaps feeling the confusion, have not migrated from 28,800/33,600 bits-per-second (bps) to 56Kbps modems in anywhere near the volumes that vendors such as 3Com/USR were expecting. The result of this was to concentrate the minds of the ITU Study Group sufficiently for the ITU to last week agree on what will be known as the V.90 or V.pcm standard -- eventually. Eventually, that is, as the agreement last week in Geneva, Switzerland, was an interoperability one, and not a full agreement on the standard. According to Barry Castle, European public affairs manager with 3Com, who recently joined the company from the European Technical Standards Institute (ETSI), it could be a few months before modems sold by the various 56Kbps vendors -- x2 and k56flex -- actually support the V.90 standard. "It's not a major problem, as 3Com, like many vendors, has offered a software upgrade path to the new standard, when it arrives," he told Newsbytes. Mile Valiant, head of 3Com UK's marketing, carriers, and service providers operation, meanwhile, told Newsbytes that the company is looking to release its V.90 programming code for its 56Kbps modems in a late March/Early April timeframe, at which stage it will be uploaded to the company's Web site and bulletin board systems (BBSs). "It will take a few weeks to ensure that the code is included as standard in modems sold in the UK, after which our modems will be fully V.90 compliant," he explained. According to Castle, meanwhile, last week's agreement at the ITU in Geneva was an interopability one, rather than a full one on the V.90 standard. All vendors, he said, will now be working on their own implementations of the x2 and k56flex systems to ensure that their modems work with V.90 compliant modems. Interestingly, Valiant told Newsbytes that there may well be variances in the speeds at which 56Kbps modems talk to the 56Kbps modem racks at their local Internet service provider's ports. This, he explained, is unlikely to affect modem users who purchased or are purchasing their modems in their own country, for use in that same country. "There are differences between the settings on modems for different countries," he said, meaning that a 56Kbps modem sources in, for example, the US and then run on the UK telephone network, may not run as fast as the same vendor's modems sold for use directly in the UK. This could affect globetrotting 56Kbps PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) modem users, he noted, where they might find their modems working at 42,000 or 44,000 bps, instead of the higher speeds found in their home country. According to Castle, meanwhile, 3Com is working to smooth out these differences and ensure that users of its modems operate as close to the theoretical maximum of 56,000 bps as possible, whichever country their modem is purchased in. Castle was at pains to stress that even early users of 3Com/USR's 56Kbps modems would not lose out as a result of the ITU's interoperability agreement. "We have committed to supporting all users with a software upgrade," he said. Despite this, the conclusion from some analysts is that, while 3Com modem buyers have nothing to fear, it may pay some potential users of different vendors' modems to hold off for a few months before buying their new 56Kbps modems. 3Com's Web site is at www.usr.com. Reported by Newsbytes News Network, www.newsbytes.com. (19980211/Press Contact: Arrow PR +44-1344-486000; Barry Castle, 3Com Europe Press Relations +44-118-922-8200; Reader Contact: 3Com UK +44- 1753-751200 /V90/PHOTO) © 1998 Newsbytes. All rights reserved.