Analog technology is still the primary way small businesses connect to the Internet. One of the most significant advancements on the analog front was the development of the 56 Kbps standard, dubbed V.90, which settled the battle over competing modem technologies. Prior to the standard, you were forced to choose between 3Com's x2 and Rockwell International's K56Flex; you also had to find an ISP that supported your choice. The V.90 standard makes it easier to connect to the Internet since competing technologies now work together.
Modems based on this international standard have been available for several months; vendors offering V.90-compliant modems include 3Com (http://www.3com.com), Rockwell International (http://www.rockwell.com), Cardinal Technologies (http://www.cardtech.com) and Global Village Communication (http://www.globalvillage.com), to name just a few. If you purchased a 56K modem prior to the development of the standard, don't stress: Many vendors offer downloadable software on their Web sites that will get you up to speed (if your modem is upgradeable).
Industry experts expect the V.90 standard to spur sales of 56K modems, which have suffered from sluggish sales in the past. Consumers who opt for 56K technology will likely benefit from the increased speed: These modems perform at roughly twice the speed of 28.8 Kbps modems. However, this technology works best when connecting only a limited number of people to the Internet. Businesses with many employees who need Internet access or who make heavy demands on bandwidth by e-mailing large files may soon find themselves yearning for faster Internet access options.
Ramp Networks (http://www.rampnet.com) provides one solution. Its WebRamp M3t ($749) enables up to three analog modems (including the new 56K models) to work together to give network users faster Internet access. Using a technology called multiplexing, the WebRamp M3t spreads browser connections across multiple modems, giving users the increased bandwidth of ISDN over less-expensive analog lines. The WebRamp M3t serves as a router and four-port Ethernet hub. It also allows dial-in access so remote users can send and read e-mail, browse the Web or work on network files.