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HELP DESK

Q. Reader George P. Bernhardt of Bellaire, Tex.: I have seen numerous ads and reports on U.S. Robotics' high-speed modems. But I haven't heard when it might be possible to upgrade existing modems to this 56 kilobits-per-second speed or when major Internet providers will offer 56K connections. Do you have any information on this?

A. U.S. Robotics and some licensees are now shipping 56K modems and have begun posting the software needed to upgrade older modems to the new standard, which USR calls X2. Whether you can upgrade just by adding new software and whether the upgrade will be free or cost up to $60 depends on what model you have and when you bought it. Check out www.usr.com for details.

There's no great hurry, since there's not much you can do with a 56K modem except communicate at 28.8K. Online services and Internet service providers are just starting tests of the technology. Unless you're lucky enough to live in a test area--America Online is testing X2 in New York, Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco--you could be waiting for months.

There's also the complication of two standards. Online service providers that use USR modems are upgrading to X2. But those whose modems are built around Rockwell International chips are going with the Rockwell-Lucent Technologies K56flex version, and communications between competing brands are limited to 33.6 kbps. It's likely to be fall before a single U.S. standard is adopted and at least a year until an international standard is agreed to.

By STEPHEN H. WILDSTROM


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Updated June 15, 1997 by bwwebmaster
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