The DSL Experience

Hallelujah! I've got broadband.

For almost two years, I've had to listen to colleagues talk about the wonderful speed of cable-modem or Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) Internet access while I was poking along with a 56K bit/sec. modem. That was the best I could do. My cable company promised to offer service but said I'd have to wait more than a year. Periodically, I'd check to see if DSL service was available. But the answer kept coming up negative, and I'd resigned myself to my analog modem.

Then I got an e-mail message suggesting that I check again. Glorioski - DSL right now! I opted to go with the least-expensive provider: New York-based Bell Atlantic Corp., my local phone company, and its Infospeed service. I'd heard all kinds of horror stories during the past year about Bell Atlantic's unfamiliarity and ineptness in delivering digital service and about hassles and delays in getting everything installed correctly. But I figured the company had had quite a while to work on it, and I took a chance to save a few hundred dollars. The ordering process over the phone went smoothly, and I was promised active service in three weeks. The install-it-yourself kit, including a Westell Technologies Inc. DSL modem, a 3Com Corp. PCI Ethernet card, an assortment of line filters, software and instructions (all for $99), arrived in just three days. And wonder of wonders, in just a week from the time of my order, service was up and active. I installed the DSL modem, the Bell Atlantic and Wind River Systems Inc. software, filters for the phones, and - there I was, hot-wired to the Internet.

I'm paying $50 per month for the least-expensive home service - 640K bit/sec. download (90K bit/sec. upload) - which includes an Internet service provider account with BellAtlantic.net. That's almost exactly the same amount I've been paying for a second phone line (about $30 per month) and my current Internet service provider ($20 per month), and the improvement in performance is dramatic.

Using the bandwidth-testing utility at www.2wire.com/dlp/dlp_bandwidth.html, I've seen connection speeds of up to 480K bit/sec., and that's faster than what I get from Computerworld's office LAN.

Security Concerns

But there's a dark side, too. Now I have to set up that network at home so I can easily provide Internet access to, and switch among, my home-based desktop, my Computerworld-issued notebook and my wife's computer. More urgently, I need to make sure personal files aren't vulnerable to outside damage or disclosure.

As a first step, I've installed the software firewall ZoneAlert 2.1 from San Francisco-based ZoneLabs Inc. This program is free for personal and nonprofit use and just $19.95 for business use.

Before and after the firewall implant, I checked how exposed my system was by using the ShieldsUp programs at Gibson Research Corp.'s Web site (www.grc.com). The first time I tried these tests, I discovered that because of some earlier network settings, both my C: and D: drives were wide open to any passing intruder. I closed that hole in a hurry.

But I'm not fully convinced that a software-only firewall, without a separate intermediary host, can provide real protection. Over the next few months, I plan to test several of the new, inexpensive firewall/networking adapters designed for home and small-office DSL use.

One piece of hardware that has simplified home setup is a Universal Serial Bus (USB) Ethernet adapter. I've used several different brands, including Torrance, Calif.-based Trendware International Inc.'s TU-ET10 and TU-ET100, plus Vancouver, British Columbia-based F=ma Networks Inc.'s USB/Ethernet adapter. All have worked flawlessly. These adapters, some priced as low as $40, are cheaper than a PCMCIA Ethernet card and even simpler to use.

When it came to configuring my laptop for DSL, the DSL software from Alameda, Calif.-based Wind River just wouldn't install, period. It kept insisting that I didn't have dial-up networking (DUN) installed in my Windows Millennium Edition (beta version) operating system, even though I quite obviously did. A Bell Atlantic support technician spent nearly an hour with me on the phone, and the final fix turned out to be one of those things you learn to hate about Windows. I had to uninstall DUN, reboot, reinstall DUN and reboot again. Then the DSL software loaded without incident.

Speaking of fussy software, Bell Atlantic makes you install its own version of Netscape Navigator 4.51 in order to set up your new DSL account, even if you never use it again. But that was a small price to pay. DSL - it's wonderful.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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