Dial-up Internet access

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Active modem

Dial-up Internet access is a form of Internet access developed in 1989 that uses the facilities of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to establish a dialed connection to an Internet service provider (ISP) via telephone lines. The user's computer or router uses an attached modem to encode and decode Internet Protocol packets and control information into and from analogue audio frequency signals, respectively. Dial-up internet is sometimes used where broadband internet access is not available; primarily in rural or remote areas.


Dial-up connections to the Internet require no infrastructure other than the telephone network and the modems and servers needed to make and answer the calls. Where telephone access is widely available, dial-up remains useful and it is often the only choice available for rural or remote areas, where broadband installations are not prevalent due to low population density and high infrastructure cost. Dial-up access may also be an alternative for users on limited budgets, as it is offered free by some ISPs, though broadband is increasingly available at lower prices in many countries due to market competition.

Dial-up requires time to establish a telephone connection (up to several seconds, depending on the location) and perform configuration for protocol synchronization before data transfers can take place. In locales with telephone connection charges, each connection incurs an incremental cost. If calls are time-metered, the duration of the connection incurs costs.

Dial-up access is a transient connection, because either the user, ISP or phone company terminates the connection. Internet service providers will often set a limit on connection durations to allow sharing of resources, and will disconnect the user—requiring reconnection and the costs and delays associated with it. Technically inclined users often find a way to disable the auto-disconnect program such that they can remain connected for days.

A 2008 Pew Internet and American Life Project study states that only 10 percent of US adults still used dial-up Internet access. Reasons for retaining dial-up access include lack of infrastructure and high broadband prices.[1] According to the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 6% used dial-up in 2010.[2] By 2013, that number had fallen to 3%.[3]

Replacement by broadband[edit]

Broadband Internet access (cable, DSL, and FTTx) has been replacing dial-up access in many parts of the world. Broadband connections typically offer speeds of 700 kbit/s or higher for two-thirds more than the price of dial-up on average.[2] In addition broadband connections are "always on", thus avoiding the need to connect and disconnect at the start and end of each session. Finally, unlike dial-up, broadband does not require exclusive use of a phone line and so one can access the Internet and at the same time make and receive voice phone calls without having a second phone line.

However, many areas still remain without high speed Internet despite the eagerness of potential customers. This can be attributed to population, location, or sometimes ISPs' lack of interest due to little chance of profitability and high costs to build the required infrastructure. Some dial-up ISPs have responded to the increased competition by lowering their rates and making dial-up an attractive option for those who merely want email access or basic web browsing.[4][5]


As of 2014, the number of Dial Up subscribers dropped to about 2.3 million, compared to over 25 million a decade prior. Although, despite the drop in subscribers, AOL has managed to consistently turn a significant profit on the fading trend. With little expenses left to pay, the company is able to capitalize on most of the revenue. The Dial Up access business acquired approximately one-third of the 607 million profited by AOL. Despite speculation that argues the excessive profiting will end alongside the extinction of Dial Up internet, AOL has received some attention for these surprisingly large numbers.

Dial up is still barely thriving, with a significant portion of subscribers living in areas such as northern Pittsburgh. Speculation suggests that "Customers still using dial-up in that area [northern Pittsburgh] are most likely leaning toward what's familiar regardless of quality” (from post-gazette source). According to surveys, the main reasons Dial Up remains falls between those who aren’t willing to pay more for internet, those who live in rural areas and don’t have access to broadband, and those who don’t want change.



Dial Up internet has undergone a precipitous fall in usage, and potentially approaches extinction as modern users turn towards Broadband. As opposed to the year 2000 when about 34% of internet users used Dial Up, the quantity dropped to about 2% in 2013.[citation needed]

In 2009 dial-up internet connections new were now less than 10 percent of users in the United States. Alternatively, the switch is being made at a large rate from dial-up to broadband. In years to come, dialup should be virtually extinct. Dial-up is beginning to fade-away largely because of the advancements in broad band technology. Broad-band offers “faster speeds, better quality of service, and provide larger amounts of network capacity to their customers” (OECD 135)


Dial Up is perhaps most memorialized for the distinct sound of the modem handshake. Since dial up connections have grown less and less popular, so has the standard sound dial-up. This sound had various functions and was a necessary component for dial-up connections. The various functions of the noise is as follows.:

  1. The beeps in the beginning are two modems trying to connect to each other. The noise right after the beep shows that the modems are connecting and making necessary changes to have a good connection like suppressing echo sounds.
  2. The modems send various tones to test and determine the optimal frequency for a good connection and to establish the correct data transfer speed between the two devices.
  3. The scratching noise at the very end helps the modem to fine tune the equalizers for the best connections.

After everything is done and tested, the sound terminates and user can start using the Internet.

Economic impact[edit]

A report from the ACLU speculates that the end of dial-up means less internet freedom because of cable providers having too much control over internet usage. Internet usage is restricted; companies limit the provided service to an x amount of electronic-devices. Internet applications such as video-conferencing and private networks are limited because of cable company’s’ power. The study concludes that there is a market control, an oligopoly of internet access from cable providers.[citation needed]


An example handshake of a dial-up modem
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Typical noises of dial-up modem while a modem is establishing connection with a local ISP-server in order to get access to the public Internet.

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Modern dial-up modems typically have a maximum theoretical transfer speed of 56 kbit/s (using the V.90 or V.92 protocol), although in most cases 40–50 kbit/s is the norm. Factors such as phone line noise as well as the quality of the modem itself play a large part in determining connection speeds.

Some connections may be as low as 20 kbit/s in extremely "noisy" environments, such as in a hotel room where the phone line is shared with many extensions, or in a rural area, many miles from the phone exchange. Other things such as long loops, loading coils, pair gain, electric fences (usually in rural locations), and digital loop carriers can also slow connections to 20 kbit/s or lower.

Analog telephone lines are digitally switched and transported inside a Digital Signal 0 once reaching the telephone company's equipment. Digital Signal 0 is 64 kbit/s; therefore a 56 kbit/s connection is the highest that will ever be possible with analog phone lines.

Dial-up connections usually have latency as high as 300 ms or even more; this is longer than for many forms of broadband, such as cable or DSL, but typically less than satellite connections. Longer latency can make video conferencing and online gaming difficult, if not impossible. An increasing amount of Internet content such as streaming media will not work at dial-up speeds.

Older games released in the late 1990s and up to the early 2000s such as Everquest, Red Faction, Warcraft 3, Final Fantasy XI, Phantasy Star Online, Guild Wars, Unreal Tournament, Halo: Combat Evolved, Audition, Quake 3: Arena, and Ragnarok Online, are capable of running on 56k dial-up. The first consoles to provide Internet connectivity, the Sega Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2 supported dial-up as well as broadband, the GameCube had an ability to use dial-up and broadband connections, but this was used in very few games and required a separate adapter. The original Xbox exclusively required a broadband connection. Many computer and video games released since the mid-2000s do not even include the option to use dial-up. However, there are exceptions to this, such as Vendetta Online, which can still run on a dial-up modem.

Using compression to exceed 56k[edit]

The V.42, V.42bis and V.44 standards allow modems to accept uncompressed data at a rate faster than the line rate. These algorithms use data compression to achieve higher throughput.

For instance, a 53.3 kbit/s connection with V.44 can transmit up to 53.3 × 6 = 320 kbit/s if the offered data stream can be compressed that much. However, the compressibility of data tends to vary continuously, for example, due to the transfer of already-compressed files (ZIP files, JPEG images, MP3 audio, MPEG video).[6] A modem might be sending compressed files at approximately 50 kbit/s, uncompressed files at 160 kbit/s, and pure text at 320 kbit/s, or any rate in this range.[7]

Compression by the ISP[edit]

Main article: Web accelerator

As telephone-based 56 kbit/s modems began losing popularity, some Internet service providers such as TurboUSA, Netzero, CdotFree, TOAST.net, and Earthlink started using compressing proxy servers to increase the throughput and maintain their customer base. As an example, Netscape ISP uses a compression program that squeezes images, text, and other objects at a proxy server, just prior to sending them across the phone line.

The server-side compression operates much more efficiently than the "on-the-fly" compression of V.44-enabled modems. Typically website text is compacted to 5% thus increasing effective throughput to approximately 1000 kbit/s, and images are lossy-compressed to 15-20% increasing throughput to about 350 kbit/s.

The drawback of this approach is a loss in quality, where the graphics acquire more compression artifacts taking on a blurry appearance; however, the perceived speed is dramatically improved. The user may be able to choose to view the uncompressed images instead, if desired. ISPs employing this approach may advertise it as "DSL speeds over regular phone lines" or simply "high speed dial-up".

List of dial-up speeds[edit]

Note that the values given are maximum values, and actual values may be slower under certain conditions (for example, noisy phone lines).[8]

Modem 1100.1 kbit/s
Modem 300 (Bell 103 or V.21)0.3 kbit/s
Modem 1200 (Bell 212A or V.22)1.2 kbit/s
Modem 2400 (V.22bis)2.4 kbit/s
Modem 2400 (V.26bis)2.4 kbit/s
Modem 4800 (V.27ter)4.8 kbit/s
Modem 9600 (V.32)9.6 kbit/s
Modem 14.4 (V.32bis)14.4 kbit/s
Modem 28.8 (V.34)28.8 kbit/s
Modem 33.6 (V.34)33.6 kbit/s
Modem 56k (V.90)56.0/33.6 kbit/s
Modem 56k (V.92)56.0/48.0 kbit/s
Hardware compression (variable) (V.92/V.44)56.0 - 320.0 kbit/s
Server-side web compression (variable)200.0 - 1000.0 kbit/s


  1. ^ "Many Dial-Up Users Don't Want Broadband". Associated Press (Fox News Channel). 2008-07-07. Retrieved 2009-11-03. 
  2. ^ a b Todd, Deborah M. (2012-02-15). "Plenty of Internet users cling to slow dial-up connections". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved February 17, 2012. 
  3. ^ "3% of Americans use dial-up at home", Pew Research Center, retrieved 2013-11-28 
  4. ^ LaVallee, Andrew (2009-02-27). "Could You Go Back to Dial-Up? - Digits - WSJ.com". Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones). Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  5. ^ "Recession Has Many Holding on to Dirt-Cheap Dial-Up". Fox News. 2009-02-26. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  6. ^ Pavel Mitronov. "Modem compression: V.44 against V.42bis". Digit-Life.com. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  7. ^ Karl Willdig. "What You Need to Know about Modems". Fermilab Data Communications and Networking Group. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  8. ^ "Data communication over the telephone network". International Telecommunication Union. Retrieved 2008-02-18.