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February 2000

Success with Actiontec 56K PCI Call Waiting Modem

By: Sushenjit Bandyopadhyay

Initial Impression

Sometime ago I needed to download huge chunks of data to my home computer for my research. Two things became obvious then. My old USR 28.8 K modem was taking too long and while I was online no one could reach me on the phone. I needed a new modem. Since my computer is always on and ready to receive faxes, I thought it would be neat to have a voice modem and use the computer as an answering machine as well. FaxWorks Lite (a.k.a. PMFax by KellerGroup) that came with Warp 4 had the basic answering machine capability that worked with some modems. I considered upgrading the old USR 28.8. It was not software upgradable. When I called USR for their hardware upgrade option, they told me since my modem came with the Dell computer, I had to talk to them. Dell said they didn't have any upgrade deals comparable to USR. In any case the upgrade could only give me higher speed but adding voice capabilities meant paying the full price. I also checked Zoom modems. I read some good experiences on the OS/2 newsgroups. But no one said they could get the voice thing to work. Checking Keller Group's web site, I saw no mention of the Lucent chipset that the Zoom modems seemed to use.

When I saw the blurb on an OS/2 newsgroup about Actiontec Call Waiting Modem, I went straight to their web site and checked it out. I found this modem also uses the Lucent chipset. The web site claimed that it works under OS/2 but it was not specific that the voice features would work too. The price was too high for my wallet. So I waited. A few weeks ago I saw on the newsgroups that Keller Group has released v. 3.2 of PMFax Lite for free download. A visit to their website <http://www.kellergroup.com> was not very helpful regarding new features of this upgrade. So I sent an e-mail to their support and asked if the new version's voice features would work with the Lucent chipset in general and Actiontec Call Waiting modem in particular. Mark Ahlstrom from Keller Group wrote back saying indeed the new version 3.2 PMFax supports Lucent chipset's voice features. He also mentioned that though call waiting may work with data connections, it probably won't work with faxes since faxes need constant connections between two machines. I was almost convinced that this is the modem I should buy. Finally I saw it for sale for about $80 at Best Buy on a Sunday. My financier and wife agreed to give me an early Valentines Day gift.


My computer is a Dell with Pentium 133 64MB RAM. Running Warp 4 FP12. I use the modem to connect to the internet, send and receive faxes and an answering machine. There is only one phone line which is mainly used for voice calls. The same line is also used for outgoing dialup to the internet and outgoing faxes. Additionally, I have a ComShare350 switch, which redirects incoming faxes transparently to the modem after being being picked up by household members. The fax software is always ready to receive faxes without any additional input from my part.

I knew my old modem was ISA and the new one is PCI. So I started by reading up Dell's user's guide on how to remove an ISA card and insert a PCI one. According to the manual I needed to run ISA Configuration Utility from a DOS floppy to release the resources. No special steps were needed for the PCI card. I booted from the floppy and noted that the utility found the old ISA modem. I wrote down the IRQ and I/O address in case the new modem didn't work and I had to put the old one back again.


Next I opened the box of the new modem. Inside was the modem and an installation CD plus a bonus CD and two more CDs from Compuserve and AOL. There was also a $50 rebate form subject to joining the ISP Earthlink. Since my school provides me with a connection to the internet, I didn't need that or any of the other CDs. The modem also came with a 48 page user's manual. The first page of which shows a table of contents that lists "configuring OS/2 Warp" on page 21. The manual refers to an installation floppy but it says it may be a CD as was in my case. It was time to open my computer and start the process.

Following Dell's manual I ran the ISA Utility again after booting from the floppy and selected to remove the ISA modem. After confirming that I wanted to remove the card, it said it removed it. I turned off the machine and pulled the plugs. The ISA card came off easily but the new PCI modem was a little tight. Finally I managed to figure out how to push it to fit it in to one of the free slots. I screwed the plate in its place and closed the computer and hooked it up. Following the installation instructions for OS/2 Warp, I hit Alt-F1 as soon as the OS/2 Boot blob showed up. Then I pressed F5 for "Full hardware detection." It showed that it found the PCI modem and booted normally. I opened a windowed DOS session and ran a DOS utility from the modem's installation CD-ROM. It said "Found PCI Data/Fax modem: I/O Port FC00, IRQ 10. As instructed I wrote these down and closed the DOS session. One drawback of the manual is that it makes no mention of how to detect the hardware in Warp 3 or earlier versions of OS/2.

Next I had to replace the COM.SYS that came with Warp by the one provided by Actiontec in it's CD. The directory tree on the CD was different from the description of the floppy but it was there. I first copied the original COM.SYS for safe keeping and then copied the file using drag and drop. It was time to edit the config.sys. According to the manual of the modem, the device statements for COM.SYS and VCOM.SYS should appear just after KEYBOARD.DCP statement and before VIOTBL.DCP statement. This was not the case in my original config.sys. I changed that and added the I/O Port address and IRQ to the COM.SYS statement following the example in the modem manual. But my COM.SYS statement was REM'ed out! I have been using SIO.SYS since my Warp 3 days. A little digging in the SIO manual showed that the syntax of adding I/O Port and IRQ to the SIO.SYS is exactly the same as that of COM.SYS. So I added those to the SIO.SYS statement so that COM2 refers to the new PCI modem. The old modem was set to COM2 but it didn't need explicit reference to I/O Port and IRQ as those were at default setting.

To be sure, I have read reports in the newsgroups that the COM.SYS that came with the modem works fine. I have not tried it myself. The original COM.SYS that came with Warp 4 FP 12, is dated later than the COM.SYS that came with the modem. That may work too, but I have not tried that either. I tried SIO.SYS first because I was using it before and it worked with the new modem.

I rebooted the machine and fired up Dial Other Internet Provider ("DOIP"). It complained about errors in the INIT strings leftover from the old modem's setup but proceeded to dial and in a few seconds connected at 52K. I was a happy man. I found the list of modem initialization strings were not in the user's manual but was included in a pdf file on the CD. I removed all the old init strings and redialed. This time the modem connected without complaining.

With the access to the internet restored, it was time to test the voice and fax features. First I needed to download the PMFax Lite v3.2. It was a self extracting archive that was to be expanded in the FaxWorks subdirectory. It kept all the old settings of FaxWorks Lite 3.00 and added a new executable PMFax.EXE among other things. Running it for the first time created the program object on the desktop and opened up the properties notebook with a dialog asking me to check the settings. I chose the Lucent chipset in the Voice Modem tab page and removed all the special settings I needed for the old USR modem. I kept the *70, dial prefix to disable call waiting before sending outgoing faxes. From the main PMFax toolbar, I clicked on an icon that looks like a audio cassette and recorded the outgoing message for the answering machine. That was it.

How Does it work?

The data connections has been working quite well. I get connection speed ranging between 49K to 52K as it appears on DOIP. I have had no problems sending faxes. When the modem picks up a call it starts to play the outgoing message. If its an incoming fax it stops in the middle of the greetings and takes the fax. If it is a voice call, the message ends with a beep and the caller can leave a message. The length of the message a caller can leave can be setup from the PMFax's properties notebook and is set to five minutes by default. When I am on the internet if a call comes the modem rings five times producing a phone like ring. I pick up the phone connected to the modem and can talk for few seconds to the caller before the internet connection goes down. I found this time sufficient to identify the caller and tell him/or her that I will call them back later. If I want to talk longer, I tell the caller to hold and hang up the phone and quickly finish with the net and close DOIP. Then I pick up the phone again and talk to the caller.

Final Thoughts

Like my old USR modem this modem does not have any silent listening feature. This means if a fax call comes and I pick up the phone before the modem does, then I have to make PMFax take up the call by clicking on "Receive Current Call." This is not a viable option as often I am not near the computer when I pick up the phone at another extension. I use a box called ComShare that sits in between the phone outlet on the wall and the computer. It listens in on incoming calls and if it detects a fax call, it wakes up the modem after I have picked up the phone. If no one picks up the phone after four rings ComShare wakes up the modem anyway. The other shortcoming is in the Lite version of PMFax. It does not like to share the modem with DOIP. I have a little REXX script using APMTST that takes PMFax offline before connecting to the net with DOIP and brings PMFax back online after disconnecting from the net.

URLs etc.

Actiontec Call Waiting Modem Price: $84 as listed on their web page. Also available at Best Buy and elsewhere. http://www.actiontec.com

PMFax Lite v.3.2 from KellerGroup Price: Free http://www.kellergroup.com

ComShare350 from Command Communications: Price: forgotten. This product seems to be discontinued. Check the web site for a similar product.

SIO "Serial Input Output" drivers and utilities for OS/2 (4Port version $25) http://www.gwinn.com/

APMTST from IBM EWS Price: Free

* The author is a Ph.D. student of economics and home user of OS/2 Warp.

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