Arlon R Leviton
The Latest Developments
AT&T Technologies and Bell Atlantic have been testing a new modem that works at 2400 bits per second (bps) since July of this year. The CTS-1620 will debut some time in 1986 and be pegged between $1,600 and $2,600. Why the relatively steep price tag? The CTS1620 will be the communications giant's first cellular modem.
The testing is being conducted in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area and includes users in several government agencies, banks, insurance companies, and real estate agencies. The cellular modem requires a cellular telephone and transmitter, as well as an input/display device. While the majority of initial buyers are expected to be lap computer owners, reliable sources within Ford Motor Company report that prototypes of a built-in dash terminal are being readied for trials late next year.
Although the CTS-1620 will be AT&T's first cellular modem, two lower-speed cellular units are already available from other companies. Motorola offers a 300 bps modem for $195, and Spectrum Cellular has a 1200 bps modem that goes for $695. Few details are available on the free-wheeling AT&T modem, but you can bet your seatbelt that by definition it will have "auto-answer" and "auto-dial."
Better Than Gorillas
The Source information service added 2400 bps access in August, with surcharges far lower than had been anticipated by industry watchers. Subscribers with 2400 bps modems pay $1.80 and $1.20 premiums for prime and nonprime time, respectively. With 1200 bps service priced at $25.80 and $10.80 for the same time periods, users are said to be moving to the higher-speed modems in droves.
Prices for 1200 bps modems continue to plummet. Cermetek of Sunnyvale, California has announced the Infomate 1200-TPC, an internal "bare minimum" Hayes-compatible modem for the IBM PC priced at $198. Cermetek isn't alone in the under-$200 market. A recent issue of a popular electronic hobbyist publication contained several advertisements for stand-alone Hayes compatibles, with prices as low as a $129 kit version for those bold enough to wield a soldering iron.
And 300 bps modems for under $50-including software-are springing up like mushrooms after three days of rain. I fully expect them to be given out as party favors at upscale kids' birthday parties. Tacky? It's a definite improvement over singing gorillas with balloons.
The 2400 bps market is heating up as well. With industry leader Hayes at $895 and the bulk of its competitors at $795, U.S. Robotics (the manufacturer of Apple's 300 and 1200 bps modems) raised more than a few eyebrows when it dropped the list price of its Courier 2400 to $695. Hats off to U.S. Robotics not only for lowering prices, but also for a number of "now why hasn't somebody else done that before" features of the Courier.
The Speed Of Choice
Here are some examples. Ever lose the "handy" reference card of commands that comes with most modems? The bottom of the Courier is imprinted with a complete command and register summary as well as an RS-232 pin assignment cheat sheet. If you're too lazy to turn the modem over, there are three separate full-screen help displays that can be called up while online. Also directly accessible on the bottom of the unit are DIP switches for changing the default settings, and a sliding volume control that (unlike those on some modems) can actually be manipulated by human beings to control the internal speaker.
U.S. Robotics is working closely with system operators of computer-based bulletin boards to encourage 2400 bps. A special acquisition deal available to operators of heavily trafficked systems is rapidly making 2400 bps the speed of choice for serious telecomputerists. (If you're a system operator who'd like more information on the U.S. Robotics program, contact the company at 8100 North McCormick Boulevard, Skokie, IL 60076.)
The rapid move to 2400 bps seems to have caught some people unawares, however. During a recent visit to Atari Corp. in Sunnyvale, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the new ST series of computers includes a terminal emulator as a standard desktop accessory. But I was even more surprised when I opened its configuration menu and was presented with choices of 300, 1200, 4800, or 9600 bps: Something was missing-apparently an oversight.
"What happened to 2400?" I asked. The person showing me the ST managed to minimize his look of distress to a few nanoseconds. "Hmmmm...I'll have to write that one down," he said. "Hey, look at this graphics demo...."
Atari's 4800 and 9600 bps options indicate that some companies are looking far beyond 2400 bps, though. If 2400 bps isn't fast enough for you, how about 10,000 bps-over regular phone lines? Digital Communications Associates of Alpharetta, Georgia has unleashed both internal ($1,995) and external ($2,395) modems, dubbed DCA Fastlinks. Even more of a mouthful than the Fastlink's speed is the proprietary DCA protocol it uses, called Dynamically Adaptive Multicarrier Quadrature Amplitude Modulation, or DAMQAM for short. And I thought that was an engine problem.