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FCC plans faster US modem access

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Faster modems may result from a small relaxation on the signal power limit for modems, which is being considered by the Federal Communications Commission. At present, the FCC enforces a regulatory limit that keeps pulse-code modulation modems to a maximum of around 53 to 54Kbps, although most rarely exceed 40 to 42Kbps because of line quality. The technical capability of a modem may be higher, but it will not operate at higher speeds in the US. The FCC is now expected to invite the industry to comment on higher signal powers. The invitation should appear in the Federal Register (no relation) in the next few days. Only modest improvements in modem speed may be technically possible (a story that has been familiar since the days of 110 baud, we recall). The FCC now believes that higher signal powers might not damage networks. Whether there will be an increase depends on the views expressed by modem manufacturers, and the carriers' views about network capacity, line noise and quality. The opportunity for comment will last for 30 days, but electronic filings must be made in WordPerfect 5.1. It is rather amusing for a regulator to specify a non-standard code (we mean ISO, or ASCII as it is locally known, not that other proprietary word processor code). The International Telecommunications Union has just approved V.90 56Kbps modem speeds as a standard. There were two camps in the US: the Rockwell K56 technology, which has used V.90 since it was defined, and the 3Com X2 technology, which has now lost out. Recent glitches reported in iMacs not being able to access certain ISPs was put down to the ISPs not having implemented V.90, Apple said. ®

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