Today, a reader asked me: “Is there any justification for keeping an external modem?”
Of course, the word modem applies to current technologies, such as cable modems and ONT (the modem that connects a home or office to FIOS). But, I am pretty sure that this reader is asking about a POTS dial-up modem (POTS = Plain Old Telephone Service).*
Answer: It is safe to toss out this antique, save it for a museum, or let your 9 year old bring it to Show-&-Tell:
“My daddy used a Moh-dum. It’s how pre-historic humans got online in the Stone Age!! They called it America Online”.
Sometimes, a common tool passes into the realm of anachronism while it still sits in your tool box on your workbench. My daughter is already 18. Yet, she has never wound a watch, dialed a telephone (with a spring-loaded reciprocating dial), or tuned in a car radio. If it weren’t for an eclectic interest in the movie iRobot (Will Smith orders a pair of classic shoes from his grandfather’s era), I doubt that she would have ever experienced tying shoe laces.
But wait! Could a dial-up modem be useful when your lose Internet service—for example, during a storm or other service blackout? Not really. Who ya gonna call?!
If you have an urgent need to get online while your primary service is interrupted, you can create cell phone hotspot or ask a neighbor for temporary access to his WiFi signal. Holding onto your dial-up model is as useful as holding onto two tin cans connected by string. In most countries, you would have a hard time finding a modem that could answer your call at the other end!
If you are older than 35, then here is a friendly sound from your past (click YouTube image below). It is the sound of a dial-up modem connecting to a bulletin board or an internet gateway. If you used this type of modem, then you temporarily without phone service (unless you had an extra line of phone service). You even had to disable call waiting, so that the data connection was not interrupted.
* Incidentally, POTS is, itself, an extinct technology. Even if you have a twisted pair of copper wires entering your home and telephone jacks with red & green wires coming up from the cellar, it is very unlikely that this wire pair goes far beyond the phone pole outside your house. Your analog phone signal was converted from digital data far upstream and multiplexed with many of your neighbors into a high-speed data stream or onto a broadband carrier signal for distribution within your neighborhood and for long distance.
Instead of circuit switching your voice with the person you are talking to, telcos often use intranets and even the public internet, just like individual users with a VoIP SIP.
- Dennis Hayes invented the PC modem. Hayes introduced a 300 bit per second modem in 1977 for $280. By the time that modems were being replaced by ASDL and direct connect cable services, the fastest 56,000 bps modems were often available for free after store rebate.
- In the mid 1980s, new consumer modems bumped up data speed from 1200 bps to 2400 bps. Around that time, Hayes aired the first TV commercial for a computer component—rather than the computer itself (the Hayes modem). It was years before a 1991 TV commercial that promoted the brand and logo of an internal part (“Intel Inside”), rather than the product being advertised. Nutrasweet attempted the same ingredient branding at around the same time. Still later, in 1993, Intel introduced the Pentium CPU.