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Understanding the New 56K Modem Technology

What is 56K?

The new 56K technology uses an new type of transmission technique. Standard telephone lines are analog, not digital, connections. The theoretical speed limitation on analog lines is about 35Kbps, but this assumes that the connection on both ends of the phone line (your modem and your provider's modem) are analog. However, most of the telephone network between telephone company switches today is digital. When your Internet service provider also has a digital connection to the telephone network, that makes the entire connection, except for your connection to the telephone company switch, digital. This lets the signal from your Internet service provider bypass the typical analog-to-digital conversion at that end, and lets the server use almost the entire potentially available bandwidth for "downstream" transfer to your modem.

Because of the different type of line on either end of the connection, 56K is asymmetric. It sends and receives at different speeds - you can send data at up to 33.6 kbps, and receive at up to the 56 kbps. The practical speed limitation for reception is around 53 kbps, due to FCC regulations.

What speed can I really expect with 56K technology?

Your reception speed will vary between about 32 kbps and 53 kbps. Several variables affect this transfer rate. The distance between your home and the telephone company's central office has been a key factor in tests. Also, the type of other telephone equipment connected in your home at other jacks, the region of the country where you are located, and even the weather can play a role in the connect speed. Modem manufacturers are unsure why these factors play a role, but expect to learn more as the technology matures.

Also, you will only be able to take advantage of the high transfer rate if you are connected to an Internet service provider that supports the technology. Two personal 56K users who connect to each other with standard desktop 56K modems will get only standard (28.8 - 33.6 kbps) modem speeds. However, you will have no problem using a 56K modem as a standard modem with any connection not supporting the enhanced speeds.

What type of 56K technology does SkyPoint support?

SkyPoint has purchased US Robotics x2 modems, and expects to be the first Internet provider in Minnesota whose entire modem pool will support this technology!

What kind of equipment will I need to connect with 56K?

You will need a standard telephone line, an x2 compatible modem, and an Internet service provider (like SkyPoint) that supports the technology.

Some standard telephone lines have problems with 56K technology. For example, you will not be able to use 56K modems if you will be dialing out through a PBX. PBXes make additional digital-to-analog conversions, and there can only be one analog-to-digital conversion beween you and your Internet service provider in order to take advantage of this technology! You can also test your phone line to make sure it is compatible with 56K technology before you buy a modem! In selecting a 56K modem, you will have to decide what type to buy or upgrade. Two competing formats exist, the US Robotics 56K, and 56K Flex, which is being developed by Rockwell, Lucent, and other members of the 56K Flex consortium. As of the date of this document, only US Robotics 56K modems are available to the public. If you already own a Courier V.34 or V.everything modem or a Sportster modem bought after August 15, 1996, or you purchase a Courier or Sportster 33.6 kbps desktop modem from your local computer retailer, these modems are upgradable to the 56K technology. Upgrade information is available on the US Robotics x2 Web site.