Dial-up networking: the set of protocols and software used to connect a computer to an Internet service provider, an online service

, or a remote computer through an analog modem and POTS (plain old telephone system). Dial-up networking is the most widely used type of computer connection to the Internet. By the end of 2000, over a quarter of a billion subscribers were dialing in to the Internet--more than four times the number of users of other popular access methods, namely broadband DSL, cable, and ISDN modems. Here are the facts you need to know:  Dial-up networking uses a modem as the interface between a single PC and a network such as the Internet; the modems are typically capable of speeds up to 56 kbps.  Dialing up with a modem is still the cheapest and most widely available way to connect to the Internet, but because it offers comparatively slow connection speeds, graphics-intensive Web sites can take a long time to load.  The maximum speed at which you can download data using dial-up networking is limited by the telephone system's analog bandwidth, the line quality, and the Internet traffic load.  Dial-up networking usually communicates with the ISP using the Point to Point Protocol standard. While broadband services such as DSL, cable modems, and satellite Internet are rapidly becoming available to more areas around the nation, dial-up networking continues to grow. It's estimated that wireless connectivity will pose the biggest challenge to dial-up networking in terms of subscribers sometime in the future. What's in a Handshake? Dial-up networking is the simplest way to connect to the Internet: You just connect over the phone line using your modem, once you've subscribed to an ISP. For the most part, the software tools you need come built into Windows; some ISPs, such as EarthLink, furnish a user interface that makes setup even easier. Whichever method is used, dial-up customers usually only need to enter a user name and password, as well as the ISP's phone number, into a dialog box. The dialup networking software uses that information to make the connection with the ISP and does all the rest of the work. After the initial setup, all that most customers need to do to make a connection is double-click an icon. When you initiate the process, dial-up networking first directs your modem to dial the ISP's phone number, which is answered by another modem at the other end. For a few seconds the modems send control signals back and forth to determine how fast each can connect. The

PPP: Slightly Slower. A packet occasionally gets lost or damaged en route. your modem silences its internal speaker. There are beginning and ending flags (called "wrappers") that bound the packet. a damaged ethernet packet gets thrown out and a request goes back to the computer that sent the packet to resend it-a very time-consuming process if you use a dial-up connection. which is much slower than broadband. and so forth. While this process saves valuable time that would otherwise be used to resend every damaged packet. encoding and packaging the data before it goes on its way. PPP's error-recovery features tend to make PPP run a bit more slowly than the simpler .familiar screeching you hear when your modem first connects is the sound of your modem and the ISP's modem harmonizing the connection and deciding on a speed to use. when it arrives at its destination. the dial-up networking status window disappears. the PPP data packet. Once the ISP authenticates your information. In contrast. download files. a computer checks your user name and password against a database of active customers. At the ISP's end. and dial-up networking sends your user name and password to the ISP using a process called CHAP--the challenge handshake authentication protocol. includes several parts. check and send e-mail. One important distinction between PPP frames and ethernet packets is the capacity of damaged PPP packets to be recovered using a process called the frame check sequence. such as TCP/IP. As with ethernet. Dial-up networking uses a method called PPP (Point to Point Protocol) to package data for transmission over phone lines. but More Fault-Tolerant Dial-up networking also breaks down your data into chunks. often called a frame. Just like ethernet packets. and you are free to surf. PPP frames contain wrapper upon wrapper. which is verified at the destination. and also determine the type of data compression used on the packet. so it does not need to be resent. In some cases. a damaged PPP frame can be restored through the validation value. Once the connection is established. one part of a PPP wrapper contains a chunk of data called the validation value. The wrappers help direct the data within the packet to its destination using different protocols. The process can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes to complete.

errors or other problems can cause dozens of packets to drop each second. such as the GRIC Alliance. Most recognizable are the larger. so it has survived and flourished. with varying levels of customization and proprietary features. but few users do that. simply use AOL as an ISP." though. user groups. and this can give local ISPs nationwide (or even worldwide) access numbers. use the same dialing network. and file libraries. AT&T WorldNet. Each of the big guns offers its own brand of interface. less stringent protocols. more and more subscribers would prefer to use such subscriptions only to connect to the Internet. "Local. doesn't necessarily mean their use is geographically limited. The trend has been for the free ISPs to serve up a lot of ads in that interface. for example. and little . local ISPs frequently offer more competitive rates. Small ISPs Provide Big Service Smaller. rendering them unable to "leave the nest. On the other hand. PPP is far better suited to use over the Internet than other. You can. But there are often a few gotchas if you use an information service's customized interface: Some limit the user's access to Internet resources that are not part of the service's offerings. which offer basic connections through their user interface. But the Internet is a dangerous place for a data packet. There are free Internet service providers. as the largest providers do. In the long run. There's so much to do that many AOL subscribers know only how to use those features and services exclusively within AOL's borders." so to speak. Companies such as America Online. for instance. AOL offers those subscribers a wide range of clubs. boasts the greatest number of subscribers among ISPs and information services. America Online. so can the little ISPs with big aspirations. Dial-Up Internet Isn't Going Away--For Now Virtually every Internet service provider uses dial-up networking to connect individuals to the Internet. for instance. and offer nearly universal service in the United States (and often provide international access as well). Often they use the same "head-end" network.protocols that lack such error correction. and a different selection (and usually a higher standard) of service options. and MSN have become household names in the past ten years. EarthLink. built on dialup networking. EarthLink and MSN. national information services and ISPs. too. less restrictive interfaces.

promises to improve upstream rates by using pulse code modulation. The quality of the copper phone wire and the phone jack being used. and V.92. cutting the connection time almost in half. users who subscribe to a call-waiting service from their phone company will be able to initiate or take a voice call without losing an established data connection to the Internet--long the bane of analog modem users. Another V. remembers handshake information between your modem and dialup service. has moved further out on the horizon. As a result. With V. and the Internet's and individual Web sites' level of traffic all factor into the apparent performance. a radio call-in show that helps listeners fix computer problems. Nathan Garcia is a freelance technology writer based in the San Francisco area and the host of On Computers.90 standard.92's convenience features. This standard also adds convenience features. Rosy Future for Dial-Up Networking Dial-up networking is a mature technology.or no tech support if something goes wrong. More recently. the distance from the user to the phone company's central office. these services have begun charging fees for services. over the past few years. incremental technology improvements have improved performance.) A new standard. most modems are able to connect at or near their rated maximum of 56 kbps. The last major improvement in dial-up was the release of the V. . it looks like the demise of dial-up networking. which allowed modems that used either of two previously incompatible standards to connect to each other. tentatively named V.92. called QuickConnect.92 feature. With new compression technologies on the horizon that promise to improve performance by using a smaller share of the wire to transfer given data. but not by a significant amount. a more efficient method of grabbing and packaging data for transmission. (The 56-kbps modem specification actually translates to a real-world cap of about 52 kbps. and a realistic maximum throughput averaging about 40 kbps. at least for now.