Dial-up Modems: A Basic Introduction

by Hannah Miller 26. August 2009 20:27

A dial-up modem is an electronic device that converts, sends, and receives packets of information over an analog telephone line. The word “modem” is an abbreviation of modulator/demodulator. This describes the process of converting data from digital to analog (uploading information), then from analog to digital (downloading information).

Uploading includes clicking on links, saving new content to web documents, and sending emails. Your modem converts these digital commands to analog frequencies that can be transported over the copper telephone wires. Downloading is anything that you receive from the Internet, like webpages, email messages, updates, and software programs. Your modem translates frequencies sent by your ISP's modem to bytes of data your computer can interpret.

When you initiate a dial-up connection on your computer, you are prompting your modem to attempt to reach and communicate with a remote computer, or your ISP's modem. Your modem places a call based on the access number you have selected, or that has been preselected by your ISP's software. The call is dispatched through your local telephone company to the ISP's modem.

When the ISP's modem is reached, the two modems send and receive test packets of information to negotiate on a connection speed that will be optimal and functional for accurate communication. The following factors effect the connection speed that will be possible:

  • the quality/type of modem you have (e.g., what compression technology it has)

  • the amount of line noise on the phone lines that could inhibit communication

  • the distance to the telephone company's central office that the signal has to travel.

If the packets are sent too quickly, the information can get lost or jumbled, so a slower connection could be faster in the long run.

Your connection is then established, or allowed, providing your username and password is verified as an active account with the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your modem can adjust its speed while you are connected to accommodate increased line noise, etc. When you choose to disconnect, the modem drops the call and the connection is terminated.

Dial-up modems have come a long way from its earliest models. Only a few decades ago, modems were sending individual bytes of data at a time. Modems now send packets of information at a rate of approximately 56 kilobits per second, hence, the 56K modem, introduced in 1996.

Several versions of the 56K modem have since been developed. The V.90 standard, broadly accepted by 1998, had the compression technology of K56Flex and X2 modems, created by competing modem companies. Both produced a download speed as high as 56 kbps and an upload speed of 33.6 kbps, but they were not compatible with all phone companies and dial-up providers. V.90 resolved these compatibility issues and became the internationally accepted modem standard.

In 2004, the V.92 modem standard was introduced to consumers, and is still the latest standard available today. V.92 connects faster and uploads as fast as 48 kbps. It also introduced Internet Call Waiting, alerting users of incoming calls while connected, and Modem On Hold, placing the Internet connection on hold for several minutes while taking an a call on the same telephone line.


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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