3Com launches line of USB ADSL modems

Santa Clara, Calif.’s 3Com Corp. has rounded out its line of asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) modems with a new USB-port-only modem designed on an Alcatel chipset.

The primary benefit to service providers, who provide ADSL modems for customers to attach to their PCs when they sign up for high-speed DSL Internet access, is the lower cost of the USB-only modem. It retails for $20 less than 3Com’s Ethernet-only modem, which is currently used by Burnaby, B.C.-based Telus Corp., amongst others.

A dual Ethernet-USB ADSL modem built by 3Com is not being offered for retail in Canada.

3Com plans to market the USB modem to service providers offering DSL service to residential customers. Unlike Ethernet, USB modems do not allow for shared networks on the DSL link. However, 3Com spokesperson Andrew Morton said evidence from the United States suggests many home users don’t need a modem that is network-capable.

The other benefit of the USB modem is its ease of installation, Morton said. This is especially important for service providers who offer DSL service through retail chains.

Telus, for instance, has partially overcome provisioning problems with its DSL service by selling the Internet service through Telus phone stores and Future Shop locations, Morton said. Customers can sign up for the DSL service in those stores and are then given a DSL modem to take home and install on their computer, he described.

3Com’s ADSL Modem USB includes an instant update feature, so that when modem upgrades are available, registered users will be notified and they can download the software or standard revisions from the 3Com Web site.

It also includes free Control Centre software that provides consumers with line performance, line noise and error statistics.

Morton said 3Com’s USB modem is interoperable with DSL equipment being offered by Cisco, Alcatel, Lucent, Ericsson, Nokia and Paradigm.

According to Matt Davis, a senior analyst for the Yankee Group in Boston, interoperability is a salient point for carriers when deciding on which modem to buy.

“If you’ve got a DSLAM (DSL Access Multiplexor) that doesn’t interoperate with your modem, it won’t work,” Davis explained. He added that interoperability issues are the reason DSL modems are still sold only to carriers, rather than directly to customers.

Davis said 3Com might face some potential market barriers due to anecdotal tales of customers having trouble configuring USB modems with the Windows 95 operating system.

Despite this, it appears Canada’s carriers are starting to look at USB ADSL modems. Telus, which has 88,000 residential DSL customers, has not yet announced any decision on USB modems, but its sole supplier of modems is currently 3Com.

And Bell Canada spokesperson Andrew Cole said, “it is only a matter of time” before the Montreal-based company begins to offer USB modems to its customers. Currently, Bell’s 300,000 high-speed customers use either Nortel’s 1-Meg or Alcatel’s Speed Touch modems.

3Com’s Morton said the company has been in talks with Bell about its line of ADSL modems, but speculation amongst Bell Sympatico users exists that Bell is prepared to announce it will begin offering Ethernet modems, specifically the SpeedStream 5260, by Dallas-based Efficient Networks.

Efficient recently inked a deal to provide DSL modems and support services to SBC Communications, which owns a chunk of Bell’s parent company, BCE Inc.

Bell’s Cole said a deal with Efficient “is certainly an option,” but he declined to comment further.

3Com’s ADSL Modem USB is available and carries an estimated sales price of $279. For further information, visit www.3com.ca.