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Configuring Modem Access

Last updated Feb 25, 2005.

As you've just seen, it's rather easy to use the Network Setup Assistant to configure a port for Internet access, but you should also be familiar with the manual process because it's how you edit and troubleshoot problematic configurations. If Network preferences (see the following figure) is not already open, choose Apple > System Preferences > Network.

Figure 55

Figure 55 The red status indicator next to the internal modem means that the port has not been properly configured.

Select Internal Modem from the list of ports, and then click Configure. (If the modem isn't listed, choose Show > Network Port Configurations, select the Internal Modem checkbox, click Apply Now, and then choose Show > Network Status.) The PPP pane (see the following figure) is displayed first by default when configuring the internal modem. PPP stands for Point-to-Point Protocol and is the most common method used by dial-up computers to transmit data, although some ISPs require you to set up Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) manually instead. Under those circumstances, you need to follow the directions provided by your ISP.

Figure 56

Figure 56 The PPP pane is easy to configure because your ISP provides all the necessary information.

Most of the text fields in the PPP pane should be filled in with information provided by your ISP:

  • Service Provider. Though optional, it can't hurt to fill in this field with the name of your ISP, especially if you happen to have more than one.
  • Account Name. This is the account name provided to you by your ISP, not your Mac OS X username. It's typically either your full email address or just the portion before the @ sign.
  • Password. Again, this is the password from your ISP, not the password you use to log into Mac OS X. If you enter your password, it's saved by default, allowing any user of this computer to access the Internet. If you don't want that to happen, leave this field blank and enter your password only when you want to go online.
  • Telephone Number. Enter the phone number (hopefully local) for dialing into your ISP, including any prefix numbers necessary to obtain an outside line. An alternate number can be specified for times when the first line is busy or fails to make a reliable connection. Hyphens and parentheses in the phone number are ignored, but commas insert a one-second pause.

After filling in all the text fields, click PPP Options to open a configuration sheet (see the following figure) where you can customize how your modem behaves.

Figure 57

Figure 57 Most users can safely ignore the Advanced Options at the bottom of the PPP Options sheet.

Unless instructed otherwise by your ISP, leave the Advanced Options at their default settings; these options are technical in nature and can prevent successful connections if set incorrectly. However, feel free to change the Session Options:

  • Connect automatically when needed. When selected, this checkbox allows the Mac to dial your ISP whenever you take an action that requires Internet access, such as attempting to download your email, surf the Web, or check for software updates. Otherwise you need to manually connect with the Internet Connect program—an unnecessary interruption, in my opinion.
  • Prompt every xx minutes to maintain connection. If your ISP charges by the minute, selecting this checkbox can provide a useful reminder that the meter is running whenever you access the Internet.
  • Disconnect if idle for xx minutes. This checkbox can cut the cord if you forget to manually disconnect after you're done using the Internet. Great for preventing inflated access charge bills or freeing up the sole phone line in your house.
  • Disconnect when user logs out. If you don't select this checkbox, your Mac will maintain an Internet connection even after you've logged out, which means that other users can access the Net if you leave the computer turned on. Best to select this checkbox and force other users to log on as needed.
  • Redial if busy. Use this checkbox and related text fields to instruct the Mac to make multiple attempts at connecting if your ISP's telephone lines are busy.

When you're done making changes to PPP Options, click OK to close the configuration sheet, and then click Apply Now in the PPP pane to save and activate all your changes. For most users, that's all that's necessary to configure a modem for Internet access. However, in case you're curious, I'll briefly explain the purpose of the three other panes: TCP/IP, Proxies, and Modem.

Most modem users can ignore the TCP/IP pane (see the following figure) after they choose Configure IPv4 > Using PPP and click Apply Now. Basically, this setting tells Mac OS X that it should obtain all the necessary TCP/IP settings from the remote computer.

Figure 58

Figure 58 Unless your ISP tells you otherwise, modem users should just configure IPv4 using PPP and forget about the TCP/IP pane.

Likewise, most modem users can ignore the Proxies pane altogether (see the following figure). Proxy servers are typically found on corporate networks to restrict and monitor computer usage, but are rarely used with dial-up modems. If your organization is the exception to that rule, contact your network administrator for assistance in setting up this pane.

Figure 59

Figure 59 For the rare instances in which proxy servers are employed with dial-up modems, contact your network administrator.

Finally, the default settings of the Modem pane (see the following figure) should already be appropriate for most dial-up users.

Figure 60

Figure 60 The default settings for the Modem pane are appropriate for most users.

There are only two options in the Modem pane with which most users may want to fiddle. The first is to turn off the sound if you're annoyed at listening to the modem screech as it connects (by selecting the "Show modem status in menu bar" checkbox, you can still get visual feedback on the connection status). The other useful option is the Connection checkbox, which appears only if your V.92 modem supports the ability to detect call-waiting. When you select the checkbox "Notify me of incoming calls while connected to the Internet," a dialog box appears when you're online and someone calls. You have the option of ignoring the caller altogether or placing your modem connection on hold while you take the call. Of course, for this feature to work, you must subscribe to the call-waiting service from your phone company, and your ISP must support "modem on hold" connections.