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There are two requirements for establishing a dial-up connection to a telecommunications network such as FIRN. First, you must have the necessary hardware (a computer with a modem) connected properly. Second, you must have the appropriate software (computer programs) installed on your computer.
This chapter explains the hardware necessary to establish a dial-up connection using a personal computer, a modem, and a regular telephone line with FIRN’s remote computers. The dial-up method can be used from your home or from a school that does not have its own local area network (LAN).
It is also possible to connect a personal computer to FIRN through a local area network, but the hardware required for establishing a LAN is beyond the scope of this book. For information about local area networks see the publication, An Educator’s Guide to School Networks, also available from the Florida Center for Instructional Technology (

Hardware for telecommunications

Almost any type of computer can used for telecommunications. A high-end computer is strongly recommended if you are planning to connect to the World Wide Web. One advantage of exchanging information through telecommunications is that different types of computers can communicate directly with each other. In other words, a Macintosh computer can send information to a Windows computer just as easily as it can to another Macintosh computer.

Phone Line

When making a dial-up connection, a standard telephone line transmits the information. Note that a telephone is not required—just the line. When the line is being used for telecommunications, the phone line will ring “busy” to incoming calls. (See the following paragraph for cautions regarding call-waiting.) In most cases, digital phone lines do not work with analog modems. You must have a standard (analog) telephone line to transmit information.
In order to minimize interruptions, it is best to use a line that does not have multiple extensions or call-waiting. When a modem shares a line with regular telephones, it is important to inform people not to pick up the receiver while the modem is in use. If someone picks up an extension, they will be greeted with a loud squeal, and the modem will disconnect. Incoming calls on a call-waiting system will also cause the modem to disconnect. You may wish to use the “cancel call-waiting” feature to avoid this problem.
Another issue to consider is that some of the newer telephone systems are not compatible with standard modems. A school or business telephone that has a variety of features, such as call-waiting, voice mail, and call-parking, may not be compatible with a modem.


Data transmitted through telecommunications usually incorporates standard telephone lines as the primary carrier for the analog sound waves. One of the impediments in this process is that information on computers is stored in digital form (bits and bytes). In order to
transfer computer information over a telephone line, the data must be translated into analog form. In other words, it must be modulated (bits and bytes turned into sound). When the data arrives at its destination (another computer), it must be demodulated back into digital form. The device that does the translation (MOdulation and DEModulation) is called a MODEM. (See Figure 1 on the following page.)

External modems

External modems are peripherals physically located outside the computer. They attach to the computer through an interface cable. In general, external modems are interchangeable between different types of computers as long as the cable has the correct connections. On older (beige) Macintosh computers, external modems are connected to the modem port. On Windows computers, external modems may be connected to the serial (or COM) port. External modems now on the market offer the convenience of connecting to a computer’s USB port.
There are several advantages to using an external modem. They are easy to connect and do not require opening the computer to install. They are portable and can be easily transferred or shared between computers. Also, they often have lights that indicate when the modem is transmitting and receiving data. These lights are helpful in troubleshooting a modem that is not transmitting properly.

Internal modems

Internal modems are computer cards (boards) that are installed into a computer (see Figure 2). Internal modems must be compatible with the computer into which they are installed. To install an internal modem, simply remove the cover from the computer and locate an available PCI slot. After the modem card is secure, replace the cover and insert a telephone line into the card’s jack.
Internal modems have several advantages over external modems. They require no desk space and are usually less expensive. They also help to reduce cable clutter by eliminating the need for a separate power cable and the cable that connects an external modem to the computer.

PCMCIA cards

A PCMCIA card is a credit-card sized module that can be inserted into laptop computers for add-on capabilities, such as modems or network connections. If you have a laptop with a PCMCIA interface, you can purchase and install a modem card. The telephone line then attaches to the PCMCIA modem card.

Another route: cable modems and ISDN

A FIRN dial-up connection as described in this booklet will meet the needs of most educators. Faster connections are available in many areas, but at a price. If you find that you need a faster connection than is available through FIRN, you may wish to consider purchasing cable modem service or an ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) connection.

Dialing the phone number

When the computer, modem, telephone line, and software (see chapter 4 for software configuration) are in place, dial-up connections are made by entering the dial-up telephone number into the communications software program and clicking on “Connect.” (You can call the FIRN Helpdesk at 800-749-FIRN for the dial-up number for your area.) After the modem number is dialed, there is usually a brief pause, and then the two computers will connect and begin communicating. You may hear dial tones (if your modem has speakers), followed by a scratchy noise to signify a connection. When the connection is complete, you will enter your username and password. See chapter 2 for registration instructions for a dial-up account.

|| Contents || Telecommunications in the Classroom || Florida Information Resource Network || Hardware ||
|| Configuring your Computer || PPP email Applications || Implementation || Appendices ||

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