Nobody enjoys being disconnected while they are surfing the Internet or reading e-mail.
All Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will automatically disconnect you if
your connection has been idle for varying lengths of time or if you have been online for an extend length.
NetDotCom will disconnect idle connections after 15 minutes or users who have been online continuously for 5 hours. (You can log right back on though.)
So, if you are getting unexpectedly disconnected, it is because of some other reason; please read
the following, as it will attempt to explain some of the most common causes and possible solutions to unexpected disconnects.
Common Causes of Disconnections:
Phone line noise
Phone line signal quality
Outdated modem software or drivers
Many issues that cause unexpected disconnects also cause slow connect speeds. Please also read Why can't I connect at 56K?
for additional explanations and tips.
Phone line noise is the most common reason for unexpected disconnects. In order for your modem to connect reliably, your phone line must be free of phone line noise, such as static, humming, buzzing
and crosstalk (noise from adjacent phone lines). Such noise is very common on the standard analog phone lines the telephone company installs in homes and small businesses. The high-speed digital lines that NetDotCom uses to provide
Internet access are completely digital and are not susceptible to the kinds of noise that effect analog lines.
Phone line noise test: If there is any noise present on your phone line contact the phone company repair center
immediately. Each any every phone line should be absolutely free of any audible noise. Perform these simple tests yourself. Disconnect all phones in your home but one (must not be a cordless phone). Pick up a corded phone
handset, listen to the dial tone. It should be loud and clear. Next press a single digit and listen again. There should be dead silence. If you hear any background noise during either of these tests contact the phone company
"Dropped connections can occur when there is a sharp decrease in line quality during a call...modems will switch to rates as low as 4800 bps to compensate for
these changes. If the loss of quality is extremely severe, they will drop the connection." 3Com/US Robotics
Common causes of poor phone line quality:
- Other phones or devices connected to the same phone line as your computer's modem. Phones, caller-ID boxes, and fax machines will degrade the phone line signal quality.
To see if this is the case, remove ALL phone equipment from the line your computer is connected to even if it is in a different room. If you have a phone connected to the back of your modem, remove
this as well.
- Poor in-house wiring is a common source of degradation. One of the first things to do if you have erratic connections or disconnects is to try connecting your modem to a different phone jack or
different phone line (if you have more than one). You may also want to try using a different phone cord, making sure it is not frayed or damaged in any way. Try connecting your computer directly to the telephone junction box
installed by the phone company in or outside your home or business. This junction box contains a standard modular phone connector that will disconnect all phone wiring within your home thereby eliminating it as a source of
- Line-splitters, noise filters, phone-line extension cords, phone-line surge-protectors or damaged phone lines can cause significant issues. Discontinue the use of these devices at
least for a week to see if it makes any difference in your connection quality.
- Seasonal changes in weather conditions: temperature, high and low humidity, wind, rain and snow can affect the wires leading from the phone company to your location dramatically.
- Outdated telephone company electronics that are not compatible with 56k speed requirements. This is very common in rural areas or places with old, poorly maintained or damaged wiring. Due to the low population in these
areas, the phone company replaces old or semi-damaged phone lines very slowly. This usually results in speeds consistently below 33.6K.
- Extremely long phone lines. If you live in a rural or older, established areas
sometimes the phone lines leading to your location are extremely long 5+ miles. This results in weaker signals which leads to slower speeds and frequent disconnects. While sufficient for voice it severely degrades modem
- High phone line traffic. During peak calling times, traffic on the telephone system (which includes voice calls), quality may degrade or the phone company may route the call differently depending on the time of day
or on line traffic. This usually results in erratic connections speeds only at certain times of day.
To function, software based modems run off of software that it installed into Windows or your Mac OS (these are called software modems) or off of firmware stored on the modem itself (these are called
modems). This software or firmware can contain errors or bugs that hinder the modem's performance under certain circumstances. When the modem manufacturer locates these errors, it will usually attempt
to fix them and then release the updated modem software, firmware or drivers which it will post on its website. You would then download the appropriate update for your modem (which is usually free) and
If you do not update your modem software or drivers the result will usually be slower connect speeds, disconnects or trouble connecting at all. This is why it is very important to use a modem from a
well established and reputable manufacturer. No-name generic modems are not bargains and if you have one, you will typically be on your own. Each manufacturer has different procedures and methods for
updating your modem so it is very important to read all instructions or documentation before installing an updated modem driver or software.
How do I obtain updated drivers or firmware for my modem?
If you have tried all of these suggestions and are still having difficulties, you will want to contact the phone company's repair department. If the amount of noise is extremely severe they may be
able to fix the problem; however, the phone company will typically only guarantee phone lines noise free enough to support connections of 28.8 kbps.
Software modems are very common on Windows-based computers. Most are very inexpensive to manufacture and because of this they are generally included with nearly all new computers.
Unfortunately, not all modems are of equal quality, software modems tend to be inferior to more the expensive hardware modems. Software modems (also called "soft
modems" or "windows modem") typically have poor error correction and flow control, meaning they cannot handle noisy phone lines as well. This can lead to disconnects because of
the modem's inability to handle the line noise. This is why it is very important to periodically check for and download updates for your modem.
Some common software-based modems:
- Rockwell or Conexant HSP or HSF Soft 56k
- Rockwell or Conexant HCF
- Diamond SupraMAX PCI internal
- Zoom Dualmode PCI internal
- Motorola SM56
- Cirrus Logic/Ambient (MD-56)
- ESS Teledrive
- PCTel HSP-Micromodem or "audio/modem riser"
Attributes of software based modems:
- Software based modems offload part or all of the communication processes to software that runs on your computers' CPU/memory, thereby reducing the overall speed of your computer. The worst
designs offload everything, reducing the modem to nothing more then a connector. On hardware-based modems the modem functions run on a dedicated controller and memory built-in to the modem
itself (this is why hardware modems cost more).
- Some brands or models will not work correctly on
older versions of Windows.
- They generally require at least a 400 Mhz CPU with 96 Mb of RAM to operate reliably.
- Since most (or all) of the modem's processes run in software that is loaded when Windows starts, any application crashes can have an adverse effect on the modem's reliability and performance. In
some instances a reboot is required to restore operation.
Because of these limitations, software-based modems are a very poor choice for computers running Windows 95, 98 or ME. Note: None of the above problems seriously affect hardware-based modems.
If you are having trouble with a software modem, the ideal solution is to purchase a good, well-established, brand-name hardware-based modem.
Here are some tips to tell software-based modems from hardware-based modems:
- Nearly all external modems (modems that sit in a separate box outside of the computer) are hardware-based modems. This kind of modem is ideal--it does not require you to take apart your
computer, although they do require some extra cabling. (EXCEPTION: External USB-based modems are usually software-based.)
- If the label on the modem says it requires "Windows" then it usually is a software modem.
- Most software modems will also indicate on the box that they require at least a Pentium-based computer; hardware modems will indicate that they will work on almost any computer regardless of the CPU's speed
- If the text on the modem box mentions "HSP", "HCF" or "controllerless" it is definitely a software modem.
- Hardware modems almost always cost more than software modems. Most software based modems sell for less than $50.00.
The bottom line: Hardware-based modems are easily worth the extra cost and will experience significantly fewer connection difficulties than software-based modems.
Some common hardware-based modems:
- US Robotics or 3Com Courier, Sportster or Performance Pro modem lines
No matter what type of modem you decide to purchase, keep the following points in mind:
- Choose a modem from a major, well established modem manufacturer.
- Make sure the manufacturer has a website that is updated frequently with lots of documentation and that telephone support is offered. This is by-far the most important issue. If the
manufacturer does not support its product, there is no way to download updates for the modem.
- If you purchase the modem from a retail store, ask about their return policy just in case the modem fails to work satisfactorily.
The bottom line: Typically, the very inexpensive, or generic non-brand name manufacturers of modems are nearly impossible to get support from. If the price sounds too good to be true, it
Finally, for optimum performance of any modem, you should always check with your modem manufacturer to see if there are any updated drivers/software or firmware available for the modem. These free
updates typically fix bugs in the earlier version of the modem software and are the quickest way to improve your connection quality. Modem updates are also usually available at your computer
manufacturer's website as well as the third-party sites listed below. The one good thing about software modems is that they are easily upgradeable--and if you are having difficulties with them you should obtain these updates.
Click here for instructions on obtaining updated software, drivers or firmware for your modem.
Lots of additional information about the quality of particular 56k modems and detailed explanations on resolving problems with their use can be found at:
Your modem may be running outdated firmware or software. Even if your modem or computer are brand new, the modem's software could be well over a year old (an eternity in the modem
business). This can lead to poor or slow connections. If your modem is having these difficulties, you will want to check with your modem or computer manufacturer to see if there are any updated
drivers/software or firmware available for your modem.
It is also possible that the current software your modem uses simply needs to be reinstalled. This is often the case with the more troublesome software modems or if the modem or its software was not
installed properly initially or if your computer required reloading or restoring due to a crash. Consult with your modem documentation for information on how to uninstall then reinstall the modem software. NetDotCom can also
perform this service.
When you use applications on your computer, this consumes a percentage of your processor (CPU) resources. When 100% of your CPU resources are in use, your computer will seem sluggish. Software
modems will also use a portion of the CPU's resources. When you are connected to the Internet and running applications such as your browser or e-mail program, these programs will use CPU
resources as well. If these applications are using too much of the CPU's resources, there will not be enough left for the software modem--this will oftentimes lead to drastically reduced throughput for
your modem, or cause the modem to disconnect.
When you are connected to the Internet, make sure to close any unnecessary programs. This will
minimize CPU usage that might interfere with your modem. Typical applications that use lots of CPU power and cause slow speeds or disconnections are: Java applications running or loading in your
browser (such as chat programs), online streaming video or music (such as real player movies or MP3s), anti-virus programs, webcam software, and Microsoft Find Fast (comes with MS-Office). The slower
your computer's processor is, the more CPU usage will be a factor in disconnects.
However, having a fast computer processor (i.e., above 500 MHz) will not totally eliminate disconnections due to CPU usage. One solution is to use a hardware-based modem--these
have their own built-in processors and do not hijack your computer's CPU.
Like any component in a computer (or any electronic device, for that matter), if it gets too hot, it will:
- Behave erratically (for modems, this means disconnects, slow speed)
- Cease functioning (for modems, no response from modem when dialing)
- Shorten the life of the device
It is possible that your modem is actually getting too hot, which can result in disconnections. If your computer has been left on for a while, power down the entire computer (if you have an external
modem just turn this off). Leave the computer off for about 1 hour allowing it to cool down. Power everything back on and see if you experience disconnects.
If the modem is overheating, it is quite possible that other more important devices (CPU, RAM, hard disk, etc) are also overheating. All this can lead to serious problems. Make sure the air-flow through the computer's case is
adequate and that the computer's cooling fans are working properly. If you suspect problems with overheating, you can bring your computer to NetDotCom's service center for any necessary repairs to the system to increase the airflow
and reduce the temperature in the case.
It goes without saying that a lightning strike or electrical surge will possibly damage your computer or modem! Every time an electrical storm moves through area we always see user's
modems fall victim to this. Often, when damaged in this way, the
modem will be unable to respond when attempting to dial, it may say there is no dial tone, there may be an inability to disconnect when you want it to, or in extreme cases, burn marks may
even be visible on the modem itself.
Various software programs can interact with your modem causing erratic operation. You may want to do a search on discussion groups (also called
newsgroups or usenet) which is available at Google Groups to see if anyone else is having similar problems with your brand of modem.