Why Dial-up Isn't Really 56K

by Hannah Miller 19. August 2009 23:33

Dial-up Internet is a narrowband Internet connection that figuratively downloads information at 56 kbps (kilobits per second). That's 56 bits, or 7 bytes of data per second that can be downloaded to your computer from the Internet, whether it's email, websites, or files.

If you use dial-up, you may have noticed that you are not connecting to the Internet at 56 kbps or 56000 bps. Or perhaps you've noticed that your downloads are slower then 7 bytes per second. Who's fault is it? The ISP? Although many people choose them as the first to blame, the ISP is minimally responsible for your connection speed.

In order to understand Internet connection speeds, here is a basic overview of how dial up works:

  1. You click connect on your computer to initiate a dial-up connection.
  2. Your dial-up modem places a call on your telephone lines to another modem on your ISP's end.
  3. The two modems then send and receive test packets of information and agree on the optimal connection speed that they can send without losing or jumbling the information (hence, the screeching sounds).
  4. The connection and speed is established, allowing you to send and receive information, that is, webpages, email, etc.

The dial-up modem itself can receive information at 56 kilobits per second, but since it's using the telephone lines, several limitations apply. The connection speed, then, is the highest speed possible to send and receive packets of data based on the type of modem you have, the amount of inhibiting line noise or static is on the line, and the distance between your modem and the telephone company's central office. With these factors in play, few dial-up users are physically capable of a connection speed much higher than 48-50 kbps.

Furthermore, the FCC has limited the maximum download speed to no more than 53.3 kilobits per second. This was to prevent “cross-talk”, where the activity of the dial up connection would run over into other lines and be heard on nearby telephone conversations. In the most ideal situation, you would live next door to the telephone company, and have brand new lines and modem. Your connection speed would most likely be 51-53 kbps.

Since dial-up modems have to hear analog signals over your phone line to send and receive information, one of the biggest factors of slow connection speeds and disconnects is the telephone line. Some things can be done, like shortening the distance of the phone cord to the modem and rewiring phone cords in your house. Unfortunately, many rural dial-up customers are often left with little or no solutions. If you live too far from the phone company's central office, you may not be physically capable of getting faster connections. Sometimes phone company cannot afford to replace large sections of phone cords, especially if they are still in usable for phone conversations.

If you notice that you are getting low connection speeds, consider the following:

  • Are you using a splitter or a phone cord longer than 5 feet? Try rearranging your computer set up to give your modem the closest access to the phone jack. Most modem ports have a second jack for your telephone so a splitter is not needed.

  • Do you often hear static or humming on your home phone? You may need to rewire the lines in your house or the phone company may need to repair wires going to your home.

  • Have you recently had inclement weather? Sometimes storms and heavy rain can cause temporary slow connection issues.

  • Are you connecting to a local access number? Get several numbers for your area from your ISP, then check with your phone company to make sure the are local. Try several local numbers and see if one connects better than the other.

  • Is your modem out of date (and lacking the latest compression technology)? Perhaps you need to buy a new modem or download new drivers for your model from the manufacturer's website.

Keep in mind that there are other ways to improve your download speeds and load webpages faster. You could update to the latest version of your browser, install web accelerators, and eliminate unnecessary processes running on your computer. See a local technician for help and more advice.


Written by Hannah Miller, Online Marketing Representative and Customer Service, Copper.net.

Copper.net is a nationwide Internet services provider that is all-American owned and operated. Call today, 1-800-336-3318 or sign up online at www.copper.net! Check out my blog for more articles! 

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About the author

Hannah Miller is an Online Marketing Representative for Copper.net - America's best provider for Dial-Up Internet Service since 1997.

Hannah has been a Customer Service and Tech Support agent for Copper.net since 2007, which has supplemented her knowledge of dial-up, computers, and the Internet. The entries that are posted in this blog are professional articles relating to our industry. Email your questions, suggestions, and other comments to hmiller@copper.net.

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