Remembering the Thrill of V.34

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Verizon has introduced a symmetrical broadband service that offers up to 20 megabits per second — that is, 20 Mbps both up and down. And you can get FiOS Internet with (allegedly) up to 50 Mbps downstream, if you’re in one of six states where that service is available. Verizon’s now talking about 100 Mbps service to the home.

Cable’s response: "wideband," a.k.a. DOCSIS 3.0, which (allegedly) delivers up to 160 Mbps (or more) downstream and up to 120 Mbps upstream. The first CableLabs-certified wideband cable modem gear should be ready sometime in early 2008 for operators, which will no doubt use it as quickly as possible to fight FiOS. (Read a report from this week’s issue on DOCSIS 3.0 here.)

Suddenly I feel like a silver-maned granddad, wondering what in the heck anybody would do with 100 or even 50 megabits per second.

I still remember, back in 1995, how totally awesome it was to get my hands on one of the first 28.8-kilobit-per-second modems. The breakthrough was the ITU’s V.34 standard — pronounced "vee dot thirty-four" — which standardized such blazingly fast modem connections.

To recall how exciting this was, in 1994 PC Magazine, where I was an editor at the time, gave the V.34 spec a technical excellence award (wow — in the same league as Microsoft Office 4.2!). V.34, incidentally, uses quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), which is a technology ubiquitously used in the delivery of digital cable signals today.

I had once been dialing up to Prodigy with a 2400-baud (i.e., less than 2,400 bits per second) Hayes modem, so V.34 was nothing short of miraculous. I even had a T-shirt from U.S. Robotics with a stylized blue-and-orange "V.34" decal, of which my friends and family were deeply envious.

Then imagine the thrill a few years later when V.92 gave modems a theoretical max of 56 Kbps. Unheard of! I knew the pings and squeals of the modem handshake sequence as if it were my favorite song of all time. There was always that twinge of disappointment when Microsoft Dial-Up Networking indicated my connection speed had negotiated down to, say, 33.6. Damn that old copper plant.

So — 160 Mbps? Bah. Back in my day, youngster, we had to hand-crank our modems to get ‘em started! Took an hour to download a single low-resolution photo, longer if it was raining, but we loved those darn things, sonny!