These days, a typical broadband installation involves multiple phone calls, service delays and technician appointments-a far cry from going to your local computer store and picking out a 56Kbps modem that takes 15 minutes to install. G.lite modems, though, promise to make DSL service about as easy to initiate as plugging in a dial-up modem.
More than a dozen G.lite models will be rolling out over the next couple months, from vendors like Cisco and Alcatel. Already, Intel (www.intel.com) has introduced a $295, USB-equipped PRO/DSL 3100 Modem. Expect most G.lite vendors to offer USB models, so you won't even have to open up your PC to install an Ethernet card.
The impact of the overdue G.lite modems has been delayed by the usual squabble over communications standards, which are just now being nailed down. The nation's established DSL providers probably won't implement G.lite service until fall, with testing and nationwide ramp-up extending into next year.
Even so, G.lite modems are already helping you by forcing improvements in standard DSL, or G.DMT, modems. The 1.5Mbps G.lite standard was originally conceived as a less-inexpensive-albeit slower-alternative to the G.DMT protocol, the transfer rate of which can theoretically reach 8Mbps. But lately, G.DMT prices have begun falling, and the so-called full-rate modems are adopting another G.lite advantage-circuitry that eliminates the need for a technician to install a splitter device in your office.
That will no doubt co-opt some G.lite sales, says Fritz McCormick, an analyst at The Yankee Group. For example, Bell Atlantic and US West are already deploying splitterless, full-rate and user-installable G.DMT modems-although both companies also plan to add G.lite service later on this year.
But G.lite has a couple additional benefits, counters Stephen Moore, manager of PR and advertising for PairGain Technologies (www.pairgain.com), which sells the dual-mode Skyrocket modem. Skyrocket includes two newer G.lite features, G.handshake and fast retrain, which let you realize your line's maximum throughput potential and reduce the likelihood of technician visits.
G.DMT's apparent speed advantage over G.lite really doesn't matter much, explains Moore, because relatively few users ever achieve 1.5Mbps data rates, much less 8Mbps. Because DSL transfer rates quickly drop as you move away from central phone company offices, most DSL users transfer data at only between 256Kbps and 640Kbps. Factor in Internet bottlenecks, and your average transfer speed is probably less than 500Kbps, no matter what kind of modem you have.
Another G.lite advantage is that it lowers the price of the equipment used to display DSL services, lets them run more lines from each location and lowers power consumption.
It may be years before the infrastructure changes enough to really boost your DSL bandwidth, but G.lite's impact is already making DSL service cheaper and easier to start up.
Eric Brown is a freelance writer living in the Boston area.