Virtual OS/2 International Consumer Education

May 1998


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OS/2 Technology Issues

Part 2

Internet Access

by: Dan Casey (
May 2, 1998

This series of articles is not about recommending specific hardware and/or software. It's about information.

It wasn't all that long ago, that the average user had no reasonably inexpensive method to connect to the Internet. You either had to be a student at a University that had Internet access, work for a large company with Internet access, or shell out big bucks for your own connection. Dial-up access was unheard of 4 or 5 years ago.

My first exposure to the Internet was via a local BBS that would provide a USENET news feed to its subscribers. And Internet e-mail was routed through a special provider. But those days seem so long ago, now. I still remember the first time I actually had a dial-up SL/IP account, using a 9600bps Modem, though I find it hard to remember how painfully slow it must have been. Though not as slow as my first 1200 baud Modem that I used to access Prodigy and a local BBS.

But technology seems to be moving faster than most people can keep up. 33,600 bps Modems, 56k (2 non-standards, and 1 yet-to be-ratified but accepted standard), ISDN, ADSL, Cable Modems...... It seems everyone wants to get a piece of the Internet action, and for us, the connected user, we now have more choices and speed than thought possible 3 years ago. Remember when they said that 28,800 was the fastest speed attainable on POTS (Plain Old telephone Service) lines? That Twisted Pair (TP) Copper Wiring just couldn't handle any higher DATA rates?

Well, in this industry, never say never!

Modems can now do up to 53k (download) on POTS lines, provided certain conditions are present. ISDN can do up to 128k (Upload and Download) and ADSL can do up to 1.5mbps (download), all on TP Copper Wiring already in place. Cable Modems (they're not really modems, but I'll get into that later) can theoretically do 10mbps, though actual data rates are closer to 1.5mbps to 3mbps. But these depend on a Fiber Optic backbone provided by the ISP. And these are just the connections available for the average home user. If you want to pay the charges, you can get a T1, Fractional T1, or T3 connection. Though these types of connections tend to lean towards the expensive side (upwards of $1000.00/month).

This month, I'll explore some of the types of connections available. Some may be available in your area, and some may not (yet). But, at some point, they will all be options for most everyone.

Analog Modems.

The perennial mainstay of the "connected" user, the standard Analog Modem has been with us for quite some time. From the early 300 baud modems to today's high-speed 56k, they all work on the same principle. Take the DATA flowing from your computer's Serial Port, MOdulate it so that it can travel over a voice line, and then DEModulate it at the other end. That "makes you cringe" screaming coming from your telephone when you accidentally pick up the receiver while online is a Modulated Data stream that you are hearing, carried on a "carrier".

At one time, it was thought that 9600bps was the fastest attainable speed for data transmission on TP copper. Since then, advancements in technology have bumped that speed to 53kbps. But even the fastest modems have their drawbacks and limitations.

The new 56k modems actually are capable of 53k data transmissions, and only one way (from the source down to your computer). Uploading is still at 28.8k. And this is only attainable if you have a very clean phone line, only 1 Analog to Digital Conversion in the connection and are within 18,000 feet of the Telco CO (Central Office). The competing technologies (K56Flex and X2) seem to have finally been worked out with the agreement on a V.90 Standard, although it may be some months before that standard is actually ratified. In the meantime, most modem vendors have made available the necessary updates to upgrade your K56Flex or X2 modem to the new V.90 standard.

In the meantime, while the 56k modems were being explored, some new methods of connecting to the Internet have made their way from the planning tables to the real world. Any of the following discussed methods of "getting connected" are superior to the V.90 modems, and should be taken into consideration before making a decision on how you want to upgrade your connection to the Internet.

A new project recently undertaken by VOICE is to gather a list of Modem INIT strings. What we are planning to do is come up with a database or FAQ of Modems, ISPs and INIT strings as a reference for users to consult.
At this time, I'd like to ask all of you reading this article to E-MAIL - me with the following information:

Your Modem (Manufacturer, Model and whether it's Internal or External)
Your current ISP (Internet Service Provider)
Your INIT string (Initialization String that you send to the modem)

Please include any "Special" commands needed to connect to your ISP.

If you are using an ISDN, ADSL or Cable connection, a brief description of your setup and any/all problems you encountered is welcomed. We may use it in a future "Technology Issues" article.
If we have any questions, we may e-mail you. But unless you give us SPECIFIC permission, we will NOT include your e-mail address in the FAQ/Database.

Integrated Services Digital Network

OK, what does THIS mean?
Basically, it means you have a pure Digital phone line. Most all of the Telco circuits now in use in the US and many other parts of the world are now Digital. The only Analog portions remaining are those in your home. Your local Telco handles the Digital to Analog conversion necessary for you to use your standard telephone, FAX machine, Answering machine and modem. The line from the CO to your home is the only Analog link left in the circuit. As such, it's only certified as "clean" for voice transmission. While some Telcos have been known to "condition" a voice line for cleaner data transmissions, it's not something they are willing to do, and some won't even consider it without a charge to you, the user.

ISDN, on the other hand, has no Analog link or conversion. It's designed for data transmissions, and is, by default, much cleaner than a voice line. Of course, this means that your standard, analog telephone equipment won't work on an ISDN line without the conversion. But through the use of an ISDN Terminal Adapter (TA), standard phones will work on an ISDN line.

There are many different types of ISDN connections. Different packages of services available for different needs. The most common package available in the US consists of 2 ISDN "B" channels for data/voice transmission, and a single "D" channel to handle the control data that governs the use of the 2 "B" channels. A single "B" channel is capable of 64kbps data transmissions, both ways. But 8k of that bandwidth is needed for the control data. That leaves 56kbps data transfer rates for your Internet Connection. However, if you have the single "D" channel to handle the control data, you are left with a 64kbps "B" channel. By making use of a protocol called "Multilink", you can use both "B" channels at the same time, with the "D" channel, to attain 128kbps data transfer rates.

There are basically 2 types of ISDN TAs available. Internal and External. The Internal TAs plug into a 16 bit ISA slot, just like any other peripheral. However, Internal ISDN TAs require that you use an ISDN "Dialer" software package with CAPI.DLL specifically for that adapter. External ISDN TAs plug into a serial port, just like an External Modem, and respond to AT commands, just like a modem, although the AT commands are not the same as the standard Hayes AT commands.

My personal experience is with a Motorola BitSURFR Pro TA. The SETUP program for this TA is Windows based, and does NOT work in a WinOS2 session. But the TA can be configured using AT commands, and has a DATA port as well as 2 Analog ports for connecting standard phone equipment. It's not the easiest way to set it up, but it does work.

Make sure you do your own research on availability of hardware and software before you order ISDN service or equipment.

Because pricing and access differ among the local "Baby Bells", you need to check your local Telco provider for more detailed information on ISDN availability and pricing for your own location. Some links are listed below, but I'm sure not all. If you can't find a Web Site for your local Telco, call their Customer Service number and ask about ISDN availability in your area.

Bell South -
Pac Bell -
Ameritech -
Bell Atlantic -
US West -
Also, check on the availability and pricing of Internet Access using ISDN via your local or preferred ISP. My only, personal experience with ISDN access is via Ameritech, my local Telco. They provide not only the ISDN service to my home, but the Internet connection as well. Pricing and availability vary (sometimes widely) from area to area, so check your local Telco for ISDN rates, and your ISP for ISDN Access plans.

Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line

This is one of the "new kids on the block" for Internet Access. While not yet available in all areas (actually, not yet available in most areas), it is currently in testing, and is expected to be more widely available (in certain, specific markets) by the end of this year.

ADSL works on your existing TP Copper phone lines, and is made available by your local Telco, just like ISDN.

Where it differs from ISDN is in the capabilities and speed of the connection. Depending on the exact implementation in your area, ADSL is capable of up to 9mbps download and 800kbps upload rates through the use of an Asymmetrical Data Pipe, using frequencies that are currently unused by standard Voice and ISDN signals in the existing TP copper phone lines. I'm not going to get into the technical specifics in this article. For more information on ADSL in general, visit the ADSL Forum Web Site. - There, you will find out more information than most of you need to know about ADSL.

Since the implementation of ADSL will vary from area to area, and I can't cover each individual area, I'll base this section on the Ameritech plans for ADSL. Currently, Ameritech is testing its ADSL access in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ameritech has stated, publicly, that they hope to have 70% of their service area in the Great Lakes Region covered by the end of this century. Obviously, this leaves a lot of room (and time) for implementation, with the larger markets being the first to get the service. But once the service is offered, it may well leave all other methods of access obsolete.

Ameritech's current plans are based on the following:
ADSL Service will require installation by an Ameritech technician, and will include a "modem" installed in your home, along with the line and Network Interface Card (NIC) installed in your computer.
The Ameritech ADSL service is not a dial-up, but rather a full time connection. When your system is on, you'll be connected. A full-time, unlimited ADSL connection via should cost less than $60.00/month (not including installation charges).

Cable Modems

These are devices that connect your computer to your local TV Cable provider. As with ADSL, you install a Network Interface Card (NIC) in your computer, and connect that to the "modem" provided by your local Cable provider. Cable access is not yet available in all areas, so check with your local Cable TV provider for availability of Internet Access.

The idea behind Cable Modems is to allow Cable Subscribers the ability to access the Internet using the same Cable that now provides their Television package. The local Cable Company normally will team up with an access provider, such as @Home - to provide high speed Internet access. While early estimates promised 10Mbps Internet access, in reality, it's more like 1.5 Mbps. The Cable Company uses a technique that "hides" the data transmissions in a frequency range not used by the standard television signals in its existing Cable infrastructure. So the DATA and the TV signals share the same cable that is already strung throughout your community and into your home.

(NOTE: If you don't have access to Cable TV, you won't have access to Cable Modem Internet).

Because the DATA transmissions are far more susceptible to noise and interference than the TV signals, most Cable operators are not planning on offering Cable Internet Access until they have upgraded their infrastructure to Fiber Optic, at least for the main feed lines into your neighborhood. Of course, the ideal setup would be a Fiber Optic connection directly to your home. Fiber Optic has the ability to transmit DATA at speeds exceeding 45Mbps. But most Cable Operators are simply pulling Fiber Optic cable to a "distribution point" in your neighborhood, and using a splitter/amplifier to connect the standard COAX cable to the fiber optic "backbone". SInce COAX is limited to 10Mbps, that's where the theoretical 10Mbps Internet Access is based. But bandwidth is still bandwidth, and as I said earlier, 1.5Mbps is a more reasonable expectation. If you live in an area with a lot of users on the same COAX link, you can expect your actual speeds to drop from there.

As with ADSL, when you switch on your computer, you are connected to the Internet. Just like a LAN or WAN connection.

Packages vary between providers, with some offering Static IP addresses (you are assigned an IP address for your network or workstation, and it never changes) and others offering Dynamic IP addresses (those that change everytime you connect).

Here are a few links of interest pertaining to Cable Modems:

OS/2 eZine, Cable Modem and OS/2 -
Using a Cable Modem with OS/2 -
RoadRunner Cable Modems and OS/2. -
Cable Modems and OS/2 -
General Information about Cable Modems -
Also on Usenet there is the news://comp.dcom.modems.cable which has interesting information and comments about cable providers and cable modems all over the world.

Satellite Access

One of the faster, more complicated and least understood, Satellite connections to the Internet show promise for those users who live in areas not serviced by Cable TV, or are too far from their Telco Central Office to make use of 56k, ISDN or ADSL. In other words, if you don't live in a big city, or at least, a large town.

What you need is a 21" Elliptical Dish Antenna (similar to the DSS dishes for Digital TV from PrimeStar) and a Satellite Service provider. The only Satellite Service Provider I personally know of is DirectPC - The provider will sell you the dish and the related equipment to connect it to your computer. You'll also need a modem and phone line to connect to the provider. The Satellite connection is Downlink (download) ONLY. All uploads and requests are sent to the provider via the modem and phone line. DirectPC lists Microsoft Windows as a requirement for installation, but a Canadian company called Can-Am Satellites - lists the availability of OS/2 based software for DirectPC.

It's my personal opinion that hell will freeze over before ANYONE allows computer users Uplink capabilities to the kU band satellites now in orbit. It would be an easy task for a malicious hacker to "take over" a satellite, and broadcast programming of his/her own choosing. Satellite Uplink Centers are guarded like they were Fort Knox.

Typically, Satellite downlinks are in the range of 400Kbps, while the uploads are limited by the modem speed.

On the Technology Horizon, are LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites. Motorola's Iridium Project is scheduled for Alpha testing in July, with Sept. 23rd set as the official rollout. Initially designed with Cellular Telephone access in mind, these satellites are capable of both Uplink and Downlink capabilities of both voice and data communications. 66 satellites, in low earth orbit, positioned around the world will, eventually, make it possible to transmit and receive data via the Internet with no wires, cables or Fiber Optics necessary. Totally wireless communications worldwide.

I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for this type of connection just yet, but I thought it worth noting.

These are 4 of the most common (and affordable) methods to connect to the Internet for the Home and SOHO user. There are other, faster, ways to connect, but with speed comes a price. T-1, T-3 and T-5 connections are simply out of reach, presently, for home and SOHO users, so there is little point in going into details on these.

VOICE is, basically, a volunteer organization. We are supported, almost entirely, by our members. We are OS/2 users helping OS/2 users.
If you'd like to contribute to our effort, Membership information is available on our Website. And if you'd like to contribute to this series of articles, E_MAIL - me with a brief description of your idea. Of course, we'd like to have contributions from our members, but membership is not a requirement for contributing to our cause.


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