December 20, 1996 5:45 PM ET
Lucent to bring high-speed Venus chip to 56K-bps market
By Scott Berinato

  Lucent Technologies Inc. is developing a processor for increasing upload speeds of 56K-bps modems, adding another twist to a market that is splintering into incompatible camps.

Lucent in the first quarter will ship Venus, a chip that provides 56K bps downstream and 40K bps upstream speeds, which are more than the 33.6K-bps rate generally considered to be the upper bandwidth rate. Modems employing the technology are expected to arrive in the second quarter.

The upstream transfer works on the same principle as the downstream transfer, but echo from downstream data prevents a full duplex connection. Lucent's design cancels enough of that echo to allow for 40K-bps rates upstream, said a Lucent engineer in Basking Ridge, N.J.

Such a device would give users high-speed access that works over existing phone lines and may pave the way for symmetric applications such as voice over the Internet and videoconferencing.

"[Upstream rates of 40K] make 56K modems much more appealing," said Charles Russell, vice president of technology at Dow Jones, in Princeton, N.J. "But I'm skeptical about everything I hear. The promises may be further away than they are indicating."

Lucent's technology will enter a market already divided by incompatible formats. U.S. Robotics Inc.'s x2 technology and Rockwell Semiconductor Systems' K56Flex are already at loggerheads to establish a standard even though neither one has shipped products. Lucent supports the Rockwell standard, and officials say Venus will interoperate with Rockwell's first-generation chip set.

In part because of looming compatibility problems-an ITU standard isn't expected until 1998-many users are waiting to see what shakes out.

"Our buying decisions are based on what's out there, not what's coming," said Tom Rubino, IT analyst at Fentress Inc., in Laurel, Md.

Compounding matters are slipping product rollouts. U.S. Robotics' x2 technology is now scheduled to ship in January, a month late, while head-end x2 equipment is due in February. Rockwell-based modems had been promised by January but probably won't ship until the second quarter.

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