The past year has seen modem prices plummet. Even superstores such as Byte and PC World are shuffling their baskets of 'modems on special offer' to the back of the store. But that's not to say there are no margins in the modem business provided that customers are steered towards the specialist modem arena such as PCMCIA devices, or into the value-added arena supported by the ubiquitous comms packages.
US Robotics (USR) has grabbed the bull by the horns in the PCMCIA arena by shipping Apple Mac software with its XJack modems, making the V.34 fax/data modem compatible with Powerbooks. The Mac software for the XJack PCMCIA type II modem replicates a Mac user interface using pull-down menus, windows and mouse control. The software comes with plug-and-play Mac software from Smith Micro.
Steve Bradshaw, UK product marketing manager for USR, claims the XJack is one of the few high-speed PCMCIA fax/ modems to address the needs of Apple Mac users in the UK. 'We have already served the demand for desktop modems and hope to repeat this with a PCMCIA offering tailored for Powerbooks,' he says.
'Spurred by the impact of the Internet and pricing, modems have become commodities and should be sold as other High Street items, where the retail price includes VAT. The shift to VAT-inclusive pricing should alleviate any customer confusion,' says Bradshaw.
Digicorp says that while prices are going down in the PCMCIA arena, there are still margins to be made, providing volume sales are maintained. It has just unveiled the CCM48T, a PCMCIA V.34 modem card with voicemail facilities.
Tim Wickes, Digicorp managing director, says the CCM48T card supports analogue cellular links through the inclusion of MNP class 10 error correction and data compression facilities. The modem's voice facility uses adaptive dynamic pulse code modulation (ADPCM) for coding and decoding with 4:1, 3:1, 2:1 compression facilities. 'Voice is not a marketing gimmick, it adds useful facilities for people on the move. There is a sea of change in the way people work. Mobility is key in this change and notebooks are becoming desktops,' Wickes says.
TDK has been experiencing some success with its Global Class V.34 modem card, which can be configured for multiple-country use using the driversoftware.
It has stirred up the proverbial in the modem industry by decrying the single-country modem approvals mechanism operating in Europe. According to TDK European distribution manager Joe Amodio, despite the progress towards the so-called Euromark, the pan-European modem approvals standard, the standards are still country-specific. Although the modem was distributed internationally, it still has to go to the expense of obtaining country-specific approvals. 'Some countries are worse than others, and some are setting standards,' he says.
'BABT in the UK provides a service which is among the best. Making life difficult for telecoms equipment providers only holds back the development of local infrastructure and systems which ultimately act in the customers' best interests.'
Bill Pechey, Hayes European technical director, is a leading light on ITU study groups, the committees that decide on communications standards and policies. He claims a Euromark should be with us by the end of the year, at which stage CTR21 as the approval mark will be in place. A modem approved for use in the Netherlands, for example, will be approved for use in the UK.
Hayes is preparing to follow the recent lead by USR in the US and ship a CD-Rom with its modems. Jane Rimmer, Hayes UK marketing director, says the move to bundling a CD-Rom adds value and lessens confusion for new modem users. Rimmer says the CD-Rom will come with a front-end application to take users through the various country packages available. The UK version of the CD-Rom will include the usual Compuserve Information Manager and America Online starter kits, as well as a starter kit for Premier Internet. 'Our first Internet modem bundle has been out for months in the UK, ahead of the US. We're offering extra software with our modems, but in a user-friendly CD-Rom rather than loads of floppies,' she says.
Hayes has started shipping Smartcom Message Centre, a Windows package that supports voice, fax and datacoms facilities. According to Jeremy Butt, Hayes European region director of sales and operations, the software lets users set up a voicemail and fax system in minutes, provided their modem supports these facilities. Some of the features include support for voice record and playback, messaging, fax-on-demand, fax broadcast and paging functions. Hayes claims that communications can be customised with Smartcom Message Centre.
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER
One feature is visual scripting, an easy-to-use script language that Hayes claims makes setup easy. The scripting system provides a set of objects that visually represent all the major voicemail and fax functions in Message Centre. A user can map out a voicemail system by selecting and organising these objects using the visual editor.
When finished, the user has a visual map that depicts exactly how their voicemail system will work. 'Most customers' first contact with a business is by phone. If customers cannot speak to someone, they will expect to deal with a voice response system,' Butt says.
'Until now, voice response systems were expensive and complicated to install. By combining Smartcom Message Centre with a voice and fax-enabled modem, any business or home can have a low-cost, voicemail and fax management solution that rivals the high-cost, dedicated systems used in large companies,' he says.
Smartcom Message Centre is tightly integrated with one menu to access all functions. The package requires less disk space than competing products. The software is easy to install and use with an auto-install program for users and a help menu once installed.
Call management features support automatic call forwarding to the appropriate program so that calls are handled even when the user is away. The voicemail facilities include record and playback, with up to 1,000 programmable mailboxes, and pre-recorded announcements.
Most dealers selling into corporates have to handhold modem users before they feel confident about getting online from outside the office, though many dealers end up as baffled as their customers by some of the problems that can surface.
Tele Adapt has started servicing this need with a guidebook for W95 users wanting to get online. Tele Adapt MD Gordon Brown says the guide is supplied with all the company's connection kits. He says that modems in the UK may only recognise the British phone system and will only work in other countries if the configuration is changed. The guide informs users how to get online from foreign countries using W95.
'During the next 12 months, the installed base of W95 will grow substantially, particularly within the notebook computer market,' Brown says. 'A key requirement for users is the ability to communicate via a modem from anywhere in the world.
Tele Adapt's kits are modular in nature and range from a simple phone socket adaptor which takes one country's phone plug and allows it to connect to another country's socket, to the ultimate connection kit which has converters and adaptors for most of the countries around the world.
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