Nortel fills gap between analog, DSL: New 1-Meg Modem promises affordable high-speed access
To fill the gap between the analog modems that dominate residential data access over copper and the development of less expensive digital subscriber line equipment, Northern Telecom last week introduced its 1-Meg Modem service. Nortel described the new platform as "a mass-market, plug-and-play modem-replacement technology."
While fiber may be the ideal medium for data traffic, today's large installed base of copper is leading service providers toward DSL technologies to allow high-speed access over copper. But even though DSL has been around for a number of years since it was introduced as a video delivery solution, its recent revival as a high-speed data access solution hasn't progressed enough to make the technology widely affordable.
Enter Nortel, with its 1-Meg Modem offering. The new platform delivers up to 1 Mb/s downstream and 100 kb/s upstream via an "always-up" connection. Service providers must upgrade central office digital multiplex systems to deploy the service, but that upgrade requires only a card swap for Nortel equipment, including the DMS SuperNode, DMS-10 and Meridian SL-100 switches. As for the modems, Nortel expects them to be comparable in price with 56K modems and as easy to install as any analog modem. Nortel also is developing interfaces for non-Nortel equipment and will a license the technology as well.
"It's easy for network providers and home users to install," said Steve Edwards, Nortel's assistant vice president and general manager for public network data access solutions. "The current crop of high-speed access solutions on copper doesn't fit that description."
The design also aims to optimize the amount of bandwidth delivered for residential users who, unlike business users, don't usually require multimegabit service. "The most appropriate mass-market product is just under a meg downstream for consumers," Edwards said.
Nortel has tested the platform at Northern Illinois University and with other customers. Deployments are expected to begin in 1998. There will be limitations for users who select the 1-Meg over analog, though. The always-up connection entails devoting the connection to one network, whether it is a corporate gateway or an Internet service provider.
"Through the provisioning process, as providers set [1-Meg service] up, it will map you into a service provider" when the browser is launched, said Jon Glass, senior product manager for the 1-Meg Modem.
Dial-up flexibility is in the works, however.
"A lot of people are trying to address how to bring the attributes of the current dial-up market" into the new product, Edwards said.
But that capability may not be crucial to 1-Meg's success, according to Kieran Taylor, broadband analyst at TeleChoice. Residential users will increasingly need the permanent circuit to enable data the users have requested, such as stock quotes, to be delivered by push technologies, he said. "The open connection is going to be preferable in the consumer environment," Taylor said. "Push technology is starting to take root."
As far as distributing the 1-Meg Modem to consumers, Edwards said he envisions at least four possibilities: selling the modem through retail outlets and activating service over the phone; selling the product and activating service through retail outlets, as is common now with wireless; delivering the modems as PC add-in cards; and selling the modems and activating service through ISPs.
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