1988 vs. 2008: A tech retrospective

Think the iPhone is pricey? The cool cell phone of 1988 cost $4382 in today's dollars. A 150MB hard drive? $8755. Take a trip with us down memory lane, and you'll never whine about the price of a gadget again.


1988: Hayes V-Series SmartModem 2400

Price: $399 ($699 adjusted for inflation)

Speed: 2400 baud

Interface: serial

Standard supported: v.22bis

2008: Motorola SurfBoard S5101 Cable Modem

Price: $60

Speed: 38 mbps down/30 mbps up

Interface: ethernet and USB

Standards supported: DOCSIS 1.1 and 2.0

In 1988, one of the first questions you'd ask a new computing friend was, "How fast is your modem?"

If the person said 300 baud, you'd nod sympathetically; 1200 or 2400 baud got them a friendly smile; and 4800 or 9600 turned you green with envy.

By 1988, the price of the industry-standard 2400-baud Hayes V-Series SmartModem had plummeted from its original $1000 to $400, and clones could be found for $100 — a pittance compared to the $6 to $12 per hour you had to pay for online fees.

You'd also have to invest $50 in terminal software like Smartcom, which sent dialing commands to the modem.

Today, few broadband users even know the brand of their modem, much less its model number or speed. You might be able to say whether you have 6- or 12-mbps service, but the modem itself has been reduced to a fungible commodity, often provided for free by your ISP.

The Motorola SurfBoard is a common carrier-supplied cable modem that supports up to 38 mbps, though most users won't achieve that speed due to various limitations in the service they pay for.

The next frontier for modems and connection speeds will likely involve a new pipe to your house, such as fiber-optic or high-speed wireless service. Verizon is building FIOS as fast as it can, and consumers are snapping it up. Wireless will be the answer in rural areas where stringing new cable is too expensive.

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Becky Waring

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