Who will mourn the death of dial-up?

By: John McGarvey

Date: 2 September 2013

Dial-up modem{{}}

Beep-beep-beep-beep ... ring-ring, ring-CLICK, bzzzrrrrcscscscsssshhh-doiiiing-doiiiing ... you are now connected.

As older readers will remember, for years that was the sound of the internet. Back then, getting online wasn't a matter of simply flipping open your laptop or tapping the screen of your iPad.

You had to use a dial-up connection. This meant making sure your external modem (pictured) was switched on, checking nobody else was using the phone, then opening the connection on your computer and clicking connect.

After enduring 30 seconds of annoying fax machine-type noises, you'd be on the information super-highway, as we used to call it back then.

Starved of bandwidth

If you were lucky, your internet connection might hit the heady speeds of 56 kilobits a second. (For comparison, a typical broadband connection is about 100 times faster.)

At this point I was going to say that those were the days. Except they weren't. With barely enough bandwidth for low-quality streaming radio, YouTube was an impossibility, and every website took its time to load.

It wasn't all bad though. You could pass the time by guessing what images were of while they slowly resolved themselves on screen.

Oh, and you could play 'guess the phone bill'. With many services charged by the minute, it was common to ration your time online.

Dial-up is ending

These days, most of us are lucky enough to have a broadband connection. And while broadband in the UK has its faults, it has revolutionised the experience of using the internet.

Broadband has become so ubiquitous that when BT announced the end of its dial-up internet service last week, the most surprising thing was that it has kept it going for so long.

But while the vast majority of UK internet users moved to broadband years ago, there's still a small minority of people — mostly in rural areas — who are unable to get broadband.

BT says only a 'tiny number' of its customers were still using its dial-up service when they discontinued it, but has acknowledged that around 1,000 people won't be able to move to broadband because it's not available where they live.

Other dial-up options

And that's the thing. On the basis that any connection is better than none, dial-up does still have its uses. For people in areas not covered by broadband, it's often the only cost-effective way to get online. It can be handy in an emergency too.

For these reasons, the days of dial-up aren't quite over. Although BT no longer offers the service, a few other providers do:

  • BT's subsidiary, Plusnet, continues to provide a dial-up option to its customers
  • Free UK ISP and Free Dial-Up provide services the you can connect to and go, though we've never heard of them and so can't comment on their quality.
  • Freeola also offers a dial-up service.

If you're in need of a dial-up connection, it's good to know they are still available. But speaking for myself, I'll be happy if I never hear that noise again.

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