Keep On Dialing On

By William C. Gillis

Every day, thousands of businesses dial up to access the Internet. Some businesses stay with dial-up because broadband is too expensive, while in many areas broadband service simply isn’t available.

A new dial-up standard called V.92, ratified by the International Telecommunications Union last November, offers faster connection and upload speeds, as well as a ‘call waiting’ feature that allows users to take an incoming call while connected to the Internet. Perhaps most importantly, V.92 offers quicker download speeds – as much as 25 percent faster than the current standard, V.90.

For V.92 to work, ISPs must support it – but that’s not happening yet. Many ISPs, including EarthLink, Cable and Wireless, and WorldCom’s UUNET, have no immediate plans to support the standard. Sprint and AT&T do plan to implement V.92, but it’s unclear when they will actually be able to offer it. Only one ISP, Andover, Mass.-based NaviPath, has fully upgraded its network to support V.92 at this time.

Daryl Schoolar, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat Group, says that many ISPs are reluctant to offer V.92 because of the costs and labor associated with upgrading their networks. ‘For an ISP like NaviPath, which has a homogeneous network, the upgrade is fairly easy,’ Schoolar says. ‘Some of the other carriers are not homogeneous, and deal with different vendors, so that makes it a bit more complicated for them.’

According to Steve Dougherty, director of systems vendor management with EarthLink, the ISP is taking a wait-and-see approach. ‘We’re a very big ISP with outsourced networks along with networks we own,’ Dougherty says. ‘[Upgrading] is very labor intensive. It would be a big project for us.’

AT&T plans to introduce the new standard but has not yet set a timetable for the rollout, according to Steve Piancentino, IP product management director. Piancentino says that V.92’s features, especially the faster download time, make it a great service for their dial-up customers. ‘We’re excited about it because we can improve the dial-up experience for our customers, and it doesn’t require a significant investment on our part,’ he says. ‘We expect there’s a lot of interest on the business side, especially folks working from home with single lines.’

Cahners In-Stat’s Schoolar believes that ISPs may be underestimating the demand for V.92. ‘I think the ISPs thought that everyone would have broadband by now, so they ignored the dial-up market,’ he says. ‘There are some really good features that some of the ISPs are overlooking. It’s a good stop-gap measure that gives the ISPs competitiveness in the market, especially while broadband is taking so long to roll out.’

Schoolar adds that the new standard has backwards compatibility – in other words, your old V.90 modem will work whether you’re dialing into a V.92 network or not.

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