If you thought the battle over fast modem standards was over, brace yourself: a new one looms on the horizon. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recently announced a preliminary standard on 56 kilobit-per-second modems, but the upcoming release of hardware offering speeds about 20 times faster threatens to spark another standards war. The ITU earlier this month endorsed a draft recommendation for 56 kbps modems, dubbed V.90, and is expected to ratify a final standard by September. It ends a year-long feud between the conflicting standards of x2 by US Robotics (USR) and K56Flex by Rockwell Semiconductor, used by most other modem makers. The ITU's proposed V.90 standard is a hybrid of x2 and K56Flex, using technologies from both camps. 3Com - which acquired USR last year - and Rockwell have endorsed the standard and promised to provide free modem upgrades to V.90 when it is finalised. Many consumers have held back from buying 56 kbps modems due to the absence of a universal standard. This was because modems made from the two competing technologies could not interconnect, so users had to take the type their Internet service provider (ISP) was equipped with. Enter the new, quicker modems. Rockwell was one of the first industry heavyweights to announce it would roll out CDSL (consumer digital subscriber line) modem technology in the United States that is capable of downloading data from an ISP at one million bits per second and uploading information originating from the user's computer at 128 kbps. Other companies including Cisco, 3Com, Alcatel, Aware and NetSpeed also have announced plans to offer CDSL. They will apparently use different technologies. Rockwell plans to offer its technology by mid-year, with the hope that once the 56 kbps standard is set, the ITU will set one quickly for CDSL. Modem owners then will be able to upgrade from 56 kbps to CDSL. Also, Intel, Microsoft and Compaq Computer last month announced their participation with telecoms firms in a consortium that outlines plans for installing and implementing high-speed Internet access on the existing telephone infrastructure. CDSL is a variation of the DSL (digital subscriber line) technology used in the corporate market, but uses cheaper and easily installed hardware. For example, CDSL does not need a splitter to enable voice over the same line through which data is transmitted. This allows the modem to be plugged into telephone outlets and used over existing copper lines. A key attraction of CDSL is that it enables users to take phone calls while surfing the Net, all while using a single telephone line. However, CDSL might not work on lines more than four kilometres away from a telephone company's central switching office. CDSL modems for consumers will probably cost about HK$1,600 - comparable in price to 56 kbps models. Dataquest industry analyst Toby Edwards said CDSL would find a user market, as well as telecoms firms, to take up the technology. He said Rockwell and Nortel had agreed to work together to make Rockwell's consumer modems work with Nortel's 1-Meg Modem network equipment. 'The drawback I can see is that the standard will have to be ratified,' he said. In order to deliver the technology to a mass market, telecoms firms first must install CDSL equipment in their central offices. Therefore, the deployment of the technology in the SAR depends on whether Hongkong Telecom will upgrade its switching equipment and provide the lines. Nortel said it was in talks with Hongkong Telecom, which said no deal had been reached with any firm to provide the service. Benefits for Hongkong Telecom would come from collecting charges for CDSL use, Rockwell's Hong Kong and China regional manager Jonathan Lam said. Nortel would not comment on the expected monthly subscription cost for CDSL. In the US such services are expected to be offered at US$30 to $35 a month. Some Hong Kong ISP managers said they had no immediate plans to launch the service. 'We have been looking at it, but it's not the right time yet,' Billy Tam, a Star Internet vice-president, said. He said the consumer price for CDSL services and equipment had to come down before a sizeable user base could be established, but the technology would be adopted, 'given the fact that Hong Kong is one of the most successful cities in the world at deploying 56 kilobit-per-second [modems]'.