The Practical Mac

Sharing a Dial-Up Internet Connection

A 'Best of the Practical Mac' Column

- 2003.04.29 - Tip Jar

Most discussions of home networking center on sharing a high-speed Internet connection. However, many of us either do not have access to high-speed Internet from our telephone or cable TV company or simply cannot justify the additional cost.

Sharing a dialup Internet connection is a feasible alternative in these cases. While not difficult, you should keep in mind that a dialup connection is easily overloaded if more than one user is placing demands on it. Several users could probably check email simultaneously, though more than one person surfing the Web would most likely result in poor performance for all users.

Many manufacturers are directing their efforts toward the broadband (high-speed Internet access) market. However, some companies still cater to the dialup market. The three most prominent companies that continue to manufacture products to allow the sharing of a dialup Internet connection are Apple (AirPort), NetGear (RM356 56K Internet Gateway Router), and 3Com (OfficeConnect® 56K LAN Modem). Prices range from $175 to $299.

The NetGear and 3Com products include built-in 4-port hubs to allow up to four computers with ethernet to connect directly to the device and share the connection. The Apple product has only two network ports, but it also serves as a base station for wireless Internet sharing. Your individual needs would dictate which product best suits your purposes.

There are some important guidelines to keep in mind regardless of which product you use. All have a setting that allows you to determine how much time should elapse with no network activity before the unit closes the Internet connection. If your Internet connection shares your voice line, you should set this relatively low: 5-10 minutes. However, if you have a dedicated telephone line for Internet access, you can set it much higher: 30 minutes to 1 hour. Be aware, however, that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may automatically terminate an idle connection in a shorter period.

When setting up the unit, you will need to know the telephone number of your ISP, your user name, and your password. In addition, if you have call waiting, you will need to enter *70, (including the comma) in the appropriate location before the ISP phone number to disable call waiting while you are connected to the Internet. Failure to do this may result in your being disconnected anytime you receive a phone call.

Unlike a shared cable or DSL connection, Internet access through a shared dialup connection is not instantaneous. When you attempt to access the Internet, there will be a delay while the sharing device calls the ISP and makes the connection. Subsequent users who access the Internet while the device remains connected will get more or less instant access. It is only the first user who will see a lag. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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