GEEKNOTE: My interest in computer communications bloomed in the mid 1985 when I got involved in the BBS (Computer Bulletin Board System) scene. Things grew and I converted my hobby BBS into a commercial system in January of 1993, creating Marlowe & Associates as the business entity. We used Fidonet’s store and forward system to transfer files and email between various BBS systems. The BBS would pick up the phone and dial another system, transferring files and email at the then standard 2400bps.
A few months later, I attended a BBS conference in Colorado Springs where the presenters talked about this newly available network called “the Internet” that could be used to link computers together. A fellow by the name of Phil Becker with a company called eSoft had a lab test version of an all-in-one device that he called an Internet Protocol Adapter or “IPAD” for short. The IPAD would allow BBS operators to link up their systems, provide dialup Internet access to their customers and, for all practical purposes, serve as an “ISP In A Box”.
I was hooked. I signed up for one of the first beta versions of the IPAD to leave the eSoft offices. We ordered phone lines for a growing number of modems to handle our rapidly growing dialup customer base. When the modem count hit about 50, we converted to Ascend Max remote access servers, each of which could handle 46 telephone lines using a pair of T1 lines. We ultimately had four Ascend Max units running here at the house.
At dialup’s peak, we had close to 2000 dialup customers. Those were the glory days for independent ISPs. Some of the big boys got into the dialup business in a big way, most notably America Online, or “AOL” for short. AOL distributed floppy disks with their access software via the mail and any other means they could think of. I was a bit disappointed when their software expanded to the point where they started having to use CD’s because I had to start buying floppies again instead of just recycling the AOL floppies I kept getting in the mail!
GTE and then Verizon started rolling out DSL in the late 90’s. We signed on to sell DSL service as well as dialup. Verizon was much less ISP friendly than GTE had been, pricing retail DSL service at less than they charged wholesale to their ISP partners. Reading the handwriting on the wall, we organized Gulfcoast Networking to provide a broad range of computer services, well beyond strictly Internet access services.
Dialup had begun its slow decline. The local cable company started offering Roadrunner service and then Verizon began rolling out FIOS, canibalizing the DSL business in the process. We ultimately dropped DSL when a combination of economics and the rapidly increasing speeds of basic Internet connections made continuing a losing proposition.
Even America Online changed its business model from being a dialup ISP to being a web focused company with offerings like “Patch”.
We ditched the Ascend Maxes a number of years ago and went with a wholesale dialup provider that gave us both better pricing than we could get by ourselves and a nationwide dialup footprint. We kept offering dialup service to the shrinking group of people who didn’t need anything more than dialup. As of last month, that number had shrunk to “five”.
We got a letter last month from our wholesale dialup provider adding a new base charge to our account that essentially doubled what we were paying. With this added charge, continuing to provide dialup service for the five customers would force us to charge each customer as much as they could get basic high speed service for from either Verizon or Brighthouse. We sent letters to each of our dialup customers, letting them know that we were turning off dialup at the end of May.
I suppose we should marvel that Internet access via dialup modems lasted nearly 20 years. In the fast moving world of computers and the Internet, that really is quite an accomplishment for any technology.
As I’ve written before, change is constant and this is a change I don’t mind. I have a relatively slow 25 by 5 meg FIOS connection at the house and an even faster Roadrunner connection at the store. Today’s Internet is graphic intensive and the thought of using dialup is simply too painful to contemplate.
We have been providing our customers with remote technical support for several years now. Providing that support to dialup customers is impossible because there simply isn’t enough bandwidth on a dialup connection to let the remote control system work its magic.
One of the first things we did for my mom when she moved back to New Port Richey was to sign her up for a Roadrunner bundle so that she would save money and we could help her with computer problems without having to drive over to her place every time something went wrong with her computer.
Likewise, we encouraged my in-laws to sign up for high speed service for the same reasons: price and speed. As much as we love visiting my in-laws, a six hour round trip to fix a simple computer problem just isn’t a viable solution.
The IPAD units we purchased years ago have been updated multiple times over the years and we now use them to provide email, web hosting, and similar services. We’ve long since given away all those modems, primarily one at a time to business customers that needed an external modem for faxing.
Where will things go from here? That would be the million dollar question.
Our transition from dialup ISP to full service computer / networking company is complete. Our focus is now on providing network support for area businesses and individuals. That support includes email hosting, web hosting, network monitoring, network management, hardware sales and hardware repairs.
America still has a way to go to catch up with other countries in the roll out of super high speed Internet connections, but we are moving in that direction.
I suspect the current infatuation with mobile devices being used for everything, with everything being hosted in the “cloud” (the Internet) is overrated. I don’t see us going back to the 60’s where everyone connected to a few big computers via dumb terminals and that is the model being promoted by some of the cloud folks. I think this is the wrong model.
Microsoft’s roll out of Windows 8 with a mobile interface for everything, including desktops, is a perfect example of this wrong thinking. Windows 8 rolled out with a resounding “thud” and a “new” version is due out this summer. This may well have been the worst Microsoft disaster since Windows ME, even eclipsing Vista as a marketing dud.
I believe the correct model is one of using the right tool for the right job. A seven inch tablet or even a 10 inch tablet (I have both) will never replace my office desktop with twin 22″ monitors. The tablets are great for mobile use, but they are NOT a desktop replacement.
On the other hand, certain cloud services, such as online backup, are well worth considering, especially when they combine both local and remote storage for your critical files.
Desktops and towers will continue to shrink. Our popular mini-ITX systems and Intel’s NUC models are prime examples of this trend. I wrote about the NUCs a few weeks back.
My job is to help my customers understand their options and help them make informed decisions on what are the right solutions to meet their needs.
Would I have guessed twenty years ago that I’d be doing all this? Even my crystal ball wasn’t that clear back then. I do know that I jump out of bed each morning excited by the prospect of what the day will bring. Change is indeed constant and the technology gets better every day.
How long ago did you abandon dialup? Let us know in the comments section.
As always, feel free to drop me a note or give me a call (847-2424) if you have any questions about your computer or the Internet.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek
Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.