Probably the biggest source of frustration for users is in establishing and keeping their dial-up connection. Sources for these problems fall into three categories:
Customer Premise Equipment
- your computer (and it’s modem, whether internal or external)
- wiring from your computer to the phone jack
other telephone equipment connected at your location
- other electrical / electronic equipment at your location
- wiring from the telephone company “network interface” or “demarc” inside your home
- lines from your home’s “demarc” to the telephone company “Central Office” (CO) where your connection is switched to your ISPs phone lines
- CO switching equipment
- lines from the CO to your ISPs “Point-of-Presence” (POP)
- wiring from the telphone company’s “demarc” to the ISP’s equipment
- ISP’s Remote Access Servers (routers / modems)
- ISP’s Authentication Servers
The single most important link in your connection is your computer’s modem. When the public first began accessing the Internet, modems were external units that connected to a serial port on the computer (old timers recall the “blazing fast” 14,400 bps modems that arrived in the mid 90’s that cost upwards of $175!). These units, although bulky and expensive had one benefit — they were extremely reliable. All the necessary components for a good connection were inside the modem unit. In those days a 486 class computer with 8 MB of RAM and running at 50 MHz CPU speed was also considered “fast”!
After a time manufacturers began to build “internal” models that would plug into an open “slot” inside the system and draw power from the PC itself. This eliminated the external unit, a power supply and a serial cable. Modem technology improved and modems offering 28,800, then 33,600 bps speeds began to become available.
In the late 90’s “56K” technology became available, promising 56,000 connect speeds (in actuality connect speeds are limited to 53,300 bps by FCC regulations for connections over regular PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) lines. Computer CPU speeds rose to 200 MHz and higher and most consumer systems came with 32 or 64 MB of memory as standard and ran Windows 95 or Windows 98. Concurrently modem manufacturers began producing newer version of internal modems, Winmodems that used the computer itself for processing the digital signals for transmission over an analog phone line. The work that was done by specialized hardware on the modem was now being handed off to the PC itself. Winmodems lack an on-board DSP (digital signal processor) and rely on vendor-supplied software to do the signal processing via the computer’s CPU. Winmodems are also known as HSP, HSF, HCF, host-based, host-controlled, controllerless, and soft modems. These kinds of modems are popular because of their lower cost compared to standard modems that have built-in DSPs.
The Winmodem is generally “standard equipment” on virtually all consumer-class PCs sold today. Because of the tight integration required with the computer’s “Operating System”, the software “drivers” used by these modems are critical to their performance. Making sure you have sure that your have the latest modem drivers for your system is critical. For example, many users of Compaq systems have found that with a Compaq-supplied “SoftPaq” they have improved erratic connection speeds significantly, as have owners of Dell, Gateway and HP systems who have obtained the latest drivers for their system.
Excellent sources of information about modems can be found at this site:
Make sure that your computer is kept clean! In troubleshooting problems with connections technicians have found computers (especially those that sit on the floor) with large amounts of dust and dirt accumulated inside the PC, covering the internal modem with enough moisture-attracting dust that when the humidity changes, the moisture in the dust would interfere with the modem — once cleaned the problem went away. Additionally heat build-up on the modem during use caused the connection to drop — after turning off the system and allowing the modem to cool, the user could then reconnect, only to be dropped off again.
Adding software or hardware that conflicts. Most new modems use a PCI slot in your computer that can “share” what is known as an IRQ with other components. (The older ISA internal modems did not have this problem — that were ‘hard-coded’ to use an IRQ that could not be shared.) A common problem is when the modem winds up sharing an IRQ with a device like a sound card or a newly added ‘plug-n-play’ device like a video card or network card. Even scanners and digital cameras hooked up can create an IRQ conflict. If your system has “crashed” and then has “reinstalled” your modem, an IRQ conflict is a real possibility. You may need to contact your system maker or a PC professional for help in resolving IRQ conflicts.
Memory and system resources. If you have a “Winmodem”, running programs that take a lot of memory or system resources can cause your modem not to be able to get all the attention it needs from the CPU — and your connection fails.
Your Phone Lines
Call waiting bumps you off the line when someone else tries to call you, but it is easy to fix. To correct this problem insert a “*70,” (or a “70#” depending on your local phone company) string in front of the access telephone number in your dialer.
Line noise is perhaps the biggest single reason for dropped or poor connections.
The local phone company doesn’t guarantee that the lines running to your house will be suitable for modem use. The lines they give you are supposed to be able to pass most sounds in the 300 Hz to 3000 Hz range. Normally, there is no more than a -10db loss of signal from the phone company CO to your home. Likely they offer no implied or expressly stated ability to use modems, faxes, or other “non voice” devices over these type of lines. But many users can connect at rates of 33.6 and higher every day.
Several conditions can degrade the signal quality on standard phone lines. All these conditions apply at your end or, most likely, noise will occur at any point in between you and an ISP. Please keep in mind neither you nor your ISP have any control over the quality of the switching equipment used by the phone companies.
Here are some sources of line noise:
Bridge Taps and Half Taps – Extra wires connected to the wire pair coming to your home from the local CO. Often the result of years of repair procedures, these extra wires can act like antennas, picking up noises from a wide range of sources.
Loads (Step-up Transformers) – Commonly used to increase the volume of voices on long lines, they also increase distortion in the 300-3000Hz band. They also can introduce line noise both by increasing the level of existing noise on the line along and also by picking up environmental noise from nearby transformers, power supplies, high voltage lines, etc.
Moisture – Moisture can affect the transmission of high-frequency signals used by modems. If you have underground phone lines and there has been an extended period of rain causing saturated ground, this can sometimes lower the connection speeds temporarily. This is frequently seen in the Spring.
Power Line Hum – This is low frequency noise conducted into the line as it passes power lines.
Cross talk – Noise or sounds from other phone lines in the system, cross talk can sometimes be loud enough you can hear other lines ringing and other voices.
RFI – Radio Frequency Interference is high frequency signals inducted into the phone lines when you’re located near a transmitting station. Radio & TV stations are responsible for making sure their transmissions don’t interfere with phone services. CB, Ham radios as well as some cordless and wireless phones can also interfere.
Extra phone devices on the same line with the modem can introduce line noise, and can also pull power from the phone line itself, weakening the power of the signal from the modem to the telephone company.
What can be done if you suspect line noise?
First, make sure the problem isn’t in your own home. Check your wiring. You should not use a flat phone cable of more than eight feet in length between the modem and the wall jack. Such flat cable, sometimes called “silk” cable, is the poorest grade phone cable around. Keep it away from the power cords to your PC, the monitor’s video cable and any other electronic equipment like TVs and VCRs. Do not share the same phone jack with an answering machine, fax, or cordless phone. Too many phones (or devices) on your phone line can impair the quality of the circuit.
Electrical devices like “light dimmers” can introduce electrical interference that is picked up by the phone lines. A portable AM radio is good for detecting this type of interference. Tune the radio to a weak station and turn on a device that your suspect of creating interference. If you hear a “buzz” on the radio, the phone line may be “hearing” it too, and causing connection problems. (Like the user whose connection would drop when the flashing Christmas tree lights were turned on…) In rural areas electric fences are a big bad guy. Listen for the tell-tale ‘tick tick tick’.
You should use high-twist or data grade phone cable for the actual wiring within the house (CAT3 or higher). Wiring should not be allowed to pass near lighting (especially fluorescent), or other electrical devices any more than necessary.
You may also have the phone company conduct tests on your line if you think their lines are the problem. However, you are NOT advised to call the phone company until you check out your own equipment thoroughly. If they come out and discover the problem is with your equipment (and not their lines) they will most definitely charge you for wasting their time.
My Neighbor Always Connects Faster (or Has The Same Problem)
Your problem and your neighbor’s problems may seem the same but have different causes. In the equation there’s your modem and computer, the software you’re using, the line from the modem to the wall, from the wall to the telephone company, through their lines and switches to Adams. We can work with you to find the cause, but please don’t assume it is just our fault.
ISPs always hear from customers who say “My friends on abc.com never get dropped, and they have the same brand of computer, (software, etc.) so it must be you.” Or “I was using abc.net before and they never drop the line”. The routing a modem call makes to get to 123.net or abc.com is not the same route as to us. Different phone company switches are used with each pass through an exchange. Nor is the equipment used by ISPs always the same.
ISP Lines and Equipment
Like you, we also purchase service from local phone companies. In some cases many hundreds of phone lines are served by one phone number in a community. And naturally there is the possibility of problems developing. Here are some of them:
Busies — this should be a rare occurrence. We continually monitor line usage and order additional circuits as we project user growth. However during certain circumstances demand will exceed capacity. This sometimes occurs during “snow days” when large numbers of people access web sites for information on the weather and school closings, etc. and when kids are home from school and ‘bored’. Occasionally due to a ‘temporary’ condition on the phone line.
Disconnections — our equipment will disconnect an “idle” connection after 20 minutes. This is also a setting in most computers’ dialup prefernces. Idle means no “interesting” traffic, such as mail sent or received, or fresh pages viewed in a web browser. Messaging services like AIM, ICQ and Yahoo Messenger may or may not keep the connection alive. “Pings” are not “interesting” traffic and will not keep a connection alive. After ten hours of a continuous connection, there is a compulsory disconnect. This serves two purposes: 1) drops the line for those people who have accidentally left their connection running and that has been kept alive by a mail program, etc. and 2) prevents users from creating a “dedicated” connection, effectively preventing other users from accessing a line. If you or your business requires a “dedicated, full-time connection”, please contact our sales staff. Our “Unlimited” dial-up plans are for unlimited interactive use (i.e.- a human being sitting at a computer, not for unlimited, continuous use of a dialup line).
Failed to Authenticate — the #1 reason for failed connections is typos on logins and passwords. In this category the winner is “CAPS LOCK” — a user types in their login name, and then presses the “Tab” key (and accidentally the Caps Lock” key at the same time) and the password is then sent incorrectly. Passwords ARE case sensitive.
Another reason is “multiple logins”. If someone else is using your login and password, you will NOT be able to connect (unless you have purchased additional login accounts). Sometimes users will use their home login at the office and someone at home will try (and fail) to connect. Leaving a computer turned on with an Internet-aware program (like email or a messaging service) may trigger it to dial and connect unattended. Many users have had this problem using their home login at the office, leaving the computer on and then going home and being unable to log on.
Another cause is a sudden interruption of your connection. If you are dialed in and connected, then someone picks up an extension phone and drops you off line, the sudden disconnect may not trigger the proper “hang up” signal to our equipment and authentication server and it may think that you are still logged on and not release your login for use immediately.
Fast Busies — this is an indication of a problem. Generally means a problem with the phone company equipment handling the calls properly. For example, users in Quincy may dial 224-3491 to connect. This number is then routing to a large “hunt group” containing many hundreds of phone lines in what are known as DCS or PRI circuits — each containing 24 lines. If there is a problem with one or more of the lines in one of these groups, the calls are supposed to “roll over” to the ones available. But if this does not happen, a “Fast Busy” may occur. If this happens repeatedly, please make a note of the date, time, and number dialed and contact us at 1-877-50-ADAMS (877-502-3267) or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No Ringing / No Modem Tone — another possible problem with the telephone circuits. But may also be a problem with our equipment. If this happens repeatedly, please make a note of the date, time, and number dialed and contact us at 1-877-50-ADAMS (877-502-3267) or by email at email@example.com.
Slow Connect Speeds — generally a combination of factors — hardware and software at the user’s end. Sometimes a problem environmentally with phone lines (lightning, wind, rain) or equipment (telephone CO or ISP equipment) or interference inside the home.
Slow Internet Performance — at Adams we have multiple connections to the Internet, with redundant routes to help assure connections in the event of fiber cuts or equipment failures at our “upstream” providers. In addition to plenty of capacity, this also gives different paths to sites on the internet. But there are times that even the “fattest pipe” to the Internet is not enough to make a web site load any faster. Just like there are rush hours on the highways, so it is with the Internet. Things will start to slow down about 3 p.m. local time and gradually slowdown until about 9 p.m. local time as users in the the various time zones begin to come home and log on. Between the hours of 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays, as kids get home from school, the number of users dialed in to Adams grows by 50%, and by 9 p.m. the number of users connected is double that of 4 p.m. The same story is repeated across the country at other ISPs, so the 6 to 10 p.m. period is the busiest for overall ‘net traffic.
There are many sites that offer methods of “checking your connect speed”. While interesting tools, they can only be an effective gauge in the best of conditions. They cannot tell (from a site in Seattle or Miami) how fast your modem is connected to an ISP sitting in West-Central Illinois — only how fast the data travels from their site to your modem. (They also don’t tell you that if 100 other people are running the same test that their server itself or their circuit may be the cause of the slowdown)
Please also beware of some of the web sites that offer suggestions on how to “hack” your system (registry entries for MTU, etc) to improve performance…some of these may cause more damage or create comaptability problems. Performance-testing suggestions (large ‘ping’ packets, etc.) may be ineffectiive since our hardware is designed to give preference to certain types of traffic (ftp, mail, web pages) over less “interesting” traffic (pings, etc.). Specific questions should be addressed to our technical staff at the email address below.
Troubleshooting — Some Pointers
In all troubleshooting, have pencil and paper handy to note the date, time, connect rates and programs running. Can you reproduce the problem consistently? Start the computer “cold” and then dial in, without loading any start-up programs.
A good site to read about troubleshooting your dial-up connection is:
https://pcguide.com/ts/x/comp/modem/index.htm (Please note that we do not necessarily endorse any of the information on third-party sites).
At Adams NetWorks we monitor our modem usage, circuits and equipment performance continuously, and the vast majority of users connect with no problems and have a pleasant online experience. We continually add capacity in terms of additional dialup lines, circuits between our “POPs” and our mail and authentication server, as well as to the Internet “backbone”. But problems do occur and some problems can only be known from user reports. We appreciate your cooperation in bringing them to our attention immediately. The more specific information that you can provide us, the more effective we can be at working to resolve them.
If you have specific technical questions about connecting to Adams NetWorks, please mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Expect a reply within two business days.