[FAQ] Broadband ADSL access for Macs - jargon explained, traps unveiled


About this guide
This guide applies to people who want to switch to broadband (ADSL) access and get confused by the jargon and multiple offerings. There are tips to avoid a few common traps, e.g. notoriously unstable USB modems. It was written for a customer in the UK, but should apply equally everywhere. If you have more questions, post them to the volunteer help system or email me directly at jfgroff@gmail.com because I won't be reading this forum regularly. Good luck!

So you want broadband?
A customer wrote:
> I am having great difficulty finding any service provider that will support
> broadband in the UK for my Mac with OS 10.3.9. I am not in an area
> supported by NTL etc, and all the usual providers do not support this
> operating system. BT seems the closest supporting OS9.

No sweat. Internet service providers do not need to officially "support" the Mac in order for the broadband connection to function perfectly. Let's say that OS X supports them... ;-)

As I live in France, I'm afraid I can't advise you about a specific brand of ISP in the UK, but I can certainly help you make sense of the technology and jargon.

I'm also sitting in the countryside about 5 km away from the phone switch, but I've been happily surfing on 512K ADSL for the last 4 years, and I've just switched to my 3rd provider following price and service competition that occurred over time. So I can testify that you'll be happy with that kind of service even though city dwellers are now being pampered to lightning speeds...

What you need
Basically, here's what it takes to get connected:
- your Mac (you have it)
- an access device (buy it, rent it, or get it for free)
- a filter (comes with the access device)
- an ADSL phone line (takes a few days to be activated once you sign up).

If you have several phone sockets in your house, you MUST install a filter on each of them (they cost about 5 € each). This is the single most frequent cause of frustration and expensive, useless calls to the provider's hotline. Think about hidden telephone users such as alarm systems or remote monitoring devices... If you really have many devices sharing your phone line, you can install a master filter upstream, but then your ADSL access device will need to be plugged into this master filter and it may not be convenient if it's in the basement...

The access device can be either:
- a USB modem, connected on your USB port, needs drivers and sucks power from your computer
- an Ethernet modem, connect via a network cable, has its own separate power and needs no drivers
Therefore I strongly recommand an Ethernet modem. It will keep working when your computer goes into sleep mode, and you won't have to struggle with non-existent or crash-prone Macintosh USB drivers for the device. Price is about the same.

Choosing an access device
Some ISPs will sell you the access device or bundle its price in the service. Some access devices offer more features:
- a built-in firewall to protect your connection from intruders
- sharing the connection among several machines (a process called NAT)
- a wireless access point so you can surf from your garden

Even if you only have one computer now, I would recommend buying or renting an access device that will enable you to share the connection. It comes in handy when a friend visits with his laptop, for instance. The usefulness of wireless depends on your lifestyle. If you have a fixed office, a wired connection is still much faster and more reliable.

If you're going to buy your own access device, I recommend getting the most versatile and stable equipment, i.e. a combination of ADSL modem, NAT router, firewall, switch and wireless base station in one box. Reliable brand models with those features cost about 80 €, for example the D-Link DSL-G604T, Linksys WAG354G or Netgear DG834G (I have no affiliation with any of those companies, I've just used them and they work reliably, which cannot be said of every device on the market these days ;-). If your ISP offers the recent faster ADSL-2+ technology, you'll want to double-check that the access device you buy supports it.

Choosing your ISP and service plan
Now, it's your turn to shop around and find the best price/reputation ratio for ISPs in your area. The 512K service is a commodity these days, so you should be getting the same quality from just about anybody. In densely populated areas, you'll probably get much faster speed for the same price. Differences in price between competing providers will most likely depend on hooking you for longer periods (check the fine print!) or providing additional perks such as television service or an Internet-based phone line for cheaper calls (VoIP). Such perks will generally require that you take the specific access device that your ISP bundles in the price.

Hope this helps,

I use Wanadoo Broad band with a Thomsom Speed touch ADSL modem via the USB port. When I upgraded the e-mac to Tiger i had to buy a netgear router that worked on ethernet. Tiger does not do USB. However i still use the USB modem on my Clamshell iBook.
How would I go about connecting my iBook wirelessly, it has an airport card but it tells me it is switched off. Brown oaks the "Mac Virgin"