New flavor of DSL brings faster, cheaper Net access
August 13, 1999
by Cameron Crotty
(IDG) -- By year's end, you could be surfing the Internet at speeds up to 11 times faster than the fastest dial-up connection permits, for about $50 to $80 a month (see "Chart: What you get for the money," link below). By the end of the year 2000, you could enjoy even higher speeds for less than you currently pay for that dial-up account. The reason: a new standard called G.Lite.
G.Lite is a flavor of Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line technology, which carries data at high speeds over plain copper wires. While some forms of ADSL download at 8 mbps, G.Lite maxes out at 1.5 mbps downstream and 384 kbps up; the first round of G.Lite implementations will probably run somewhat slower still, most likely in the range of 384 to 640 kbps for downloads. To work, the technology calls for two basic components: a G.Lite-compliant modem, which should be available at your local computer store by the end of 1999; and G.Lite-compatible phone service, which requires only that your phone company flip a switch at its central office to convert your existing line.
Cheaper and easier
While G.Lite isn't as fast as some forms of ADSL, it should be a lot cheaper and easier to install. Because manufacturers have committed to a single standard, the resulting economies of scale mean G.Lite hardware should cost less than previous, proprietary ADSL solutions. Unlike other forms of ADSL, G.Lite doesn't require a technician to make a house call, so phone companies should find it cheaper to deploy. And even though cable access is potentially much faster, G.Lite users don't force neighbors to share the bandwidth. G.Lite's lower price, easier installation, and consistent bandwidth could make it the likeliest candidate yet to bring broadband Internet access to mainstream users.
Of course, DSL is already being rolled out in selected markets across the country. ADSL is the specific type of DSL most commonly marketed to individual users; other, faster forms of DSL are sold primarily to businesses. Unfortunately, the manufacturers that sell ADSL hardware have implemented the technology in subtly incompatible ways. Your local phone company may be using any one of four distinct forms of ADSL, none of which will work with the others. Because your local telco needs to standardize on ADSL equipment from a single vendor, it has to pay the higher prices that proprietary hardware demands (costs that it no doubt passes along to you). And because your modem must be compatible with the specific form of ADSL your telco uses, you can't just grab an ADSL modem off the shelf at your local computer store. In most cases, you simply have to accept the modem your telephone company gives you -- at prices that currently start around $300.
G.Lite modems, by contrast, are expected to cost less than $200 at the outset, with prices dropping fast after that. Virtually all major modem makers, including 3Com, Diamond Multimedia, Intel, Viking, Zoom Telephonics, and ZyXel, plan to start shipping G.Lite modems this fall or this winter. Expect Dell, Compaq, and other major PC vendors to start offering G.Lite modems as optional equipment around the same time.
Of course, having a G.Lite modem isn't going to do you much good unless your local phone company offers the service. Fortunately, most of the major telephone companies--including BellSouth, SBC (which comprises Ameritech, GTE, and Pacific Bell), Sprint, and US West -- expect to start selling G.Lite services either later this year or early next. Pricing isn't set yet, but expect it to be in line with current residential ADSL rates -- about $50 to $80 per month, including the ISP charges. As G.Lite becomes more widely available, those prices are likely to drop to around $30 by the end of the year 2000.
Setup fees should be lower, too. You currently pay a couple of hundred bucks just to get ADSL service installed. That's because the telephone company has to dispatch a technician to install a line splitter outside your house before the ADSL service will work. Because G.Lite doesn't require a splitter, such "truck rolls" should become unnecessary, reducing your installation costs to zero.
Slower service first
Though the G.Lite standard supports speeds up to 1.5-mbps, chances are the phone companies will roll out 384- or 640-kbps services first. Smart telcos don't want to sell more speed than they know they can deliver. They know data rates can vary greatly, depending on the quality of the copper loop that extends between your home and their central switches. They also know that adding many thousands of high-speed customers will put pressure on the connections between those switches and the Internet at large. A controlled rollout allows the phone companies to increase their backbone capacity gradually. Finally, phone companies expect that even submaximum G.Lite speeds will be enough to entice users who are currently plodding along at 56 kbps or slower.
G.Lite is saddled with a couple of catches: Like all forms of DSL, it has a limited range. If you are not within about 15,000 feet -- 2.8 miles -- of a central office or switch, you probably can't get it. You'll have to consult with your local phone company to find out whether you're eligible. Also, while your local phone company doesn't have to install a splitter outside your house, you may have to plug a microfilter into your phone jack before you can install a G.Lite modem. (The microfilter is a small box that eliminates excess noise on your phone line.)
But for telcos and ISPs, G.Lite represents the latest, greatest weapon in their ongoing competition with cable companies for broadband customers. Prior to ratification of the standard by the International Telecommunications Union last June, industry analysts were predicting that some 900,000 DSL lines would be in use nationwide by the end of 2000, compared with about 2.5 million cable modem setups. G.Lite could be the key to narrowing that gap. More important for end users, G.Lite means more broadband options at lower prices.
No more waiting for the phone guy
When you order ADSL service today, the phone company has to send out a technician to install a splitter -- a device that puts voice and data signals on separate strands of wire. G.Lite doesn't require a splitter, which makes it cheaper to install. G.Lite modems will likely be bundled with microfilters, small boxes that plug into phone jacks to filter out line noise.
Voice over DSL sounds promising
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