Installing DSL

One of the corollaries to Murphy’s Law states that “Before you do anything, you have to do something else first.” All the equipment and service providers have attempted to make the installation process as simple as possible, but it can still be confusing. A little preplanning will make your installation much less frustrating.

You may receive your boxes of hardware before the turn-up date—that is, the due date for the activation of DSL service. If so, you can use the time to get squared away on your end of the connection. Your first step, after ordering the service, will be to determine where you want the equipment to reside.

In the simplest case, you will have only one PC, so a Telco DSL modem will be installed in the phone outlet nearest the PC, perhaps the same outlet you used for your dial-up modem, if you are upgrading from one of those. If you are going to use cable DSL, the modem will have to connect to your cable outlet, which is typically close to your TV set.

If your computer room is somewhere else, you will either have to run a LAN cable to it or invest in a Wi-Fi interface to spare yourself that hassle. In either case, you will need a full-time electrical outlet to power the modem, not one that gets turned on and off frequently.

As we mention, some kind of surge suppressor for all your computer equipment is a wise investment, if for no other reason than to provide you with the multiple outlets you are going to need to power the modem, the PC, the video monitor, the printer, the scanner, or other peripherals.

One other investment you can make as you go along is to put labels on your wires. Even a Wi-Fi network may have a dozen or more AC, power adapter, peripheral and LAN cords. Labels may seem like a waste of time at first, but the more wires are added to the mix, the more they resemble each other.

The labels don’t have to be pretty or perfect, merely legible. White electrician’s tape marked with a permanent pen will suffice. The hours you spend will be recovered the first time you have to take your network apart. Here’s another general installation tip: Don’t try to do it all in one night.

Begin with the expectation that you’ll spend an hour or two, and then pick it up the following day, as well as the next. Forcing yourself leads to fatigue, frustration, and sloppy work that comes back to haunt you. If you hit a snag along the way and it’s late, there is no dishonor in setting it aside and hitting it again when you are fresh.

Often a new approach will suggest itself to you while you are relaxing. The whole process will be more enjoyable. The install kit should contain the other parts you will need:

  • A step-down transformer to provide low voltage power to the modem
  • A short LAN cable to connect the modem to your computer’s Ethernet port
  • A telephone cable to connect the modem to a phone jack
  • Several microfilters, if you are using a Telco DSL modem
  • Software, on CDs or floppies
  • Possibly, an Ethernet adapter card, which you will have to install if you don’t have one already
  • Written instructions

New residential DSL users are sometimes provided with a combined DSL modem in the form factor of a PC add-on card. These are known as PCI DSL modems and are fine if you only want to connect one PC. Similarly, a modem USB cord only services one PC. Otherwise, your PC will have to be prepared in advance with a Network Interface Card.

Most laptops have them built in. Some ISPs will include them with the other self-install hardware. Fortunately, these interface cards are relatively inexpensive these days, should you have to buy one. Prices range from $20 to $60, and you won’t need fancy add-ons. If you are using a tabletop PC, you will have to open it up and install the card yourself.

Newer NICs move data as fast as 100 Mbps, which is considerably faster than the 10 Mbps (10BaseT) socket on your modem. Wi-Fi access point/routers have at least one wired outlet for connections to existing LANs, and these ports run at 100 Mbps.

We will assume that you plan on installing a Wi- Fi network. It is still a good idea to set it up initially as your DSL provider expects. That is, as a single PC wired directly to your DSL modem. Starting this way, instead of cabling everything at once, enables you to build up your network in simple stages.

You will have confidence that the next addition will work if you know that you are building on a working foundation. Going at it in a step-by-step fashion makes troubleshooting much easier, because you know that the defective piece of the puzzle is the one you added last.

And finally, if something does go wrong with your home network, the DSL provider will only troubleshoot their portion of the network. Your tech support advisor will insist that you disconnect any routers, access points, or firewalls so that the ISP’s technician can concentrate on their own equipment.

After you have installed the NIC card into an empty PCI slot on your PC and reassembled your computer, you will have to install the software given to you by the card provider, whether that is the manufacturer or your DSL company. This consists of inserting the CD-ROM sent with the card and following the instructions.

You are going to have to know some unique identifying numbers:

  • Your own IP address, if you have been given a static address. Set the card for dynamic addressing or Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) if not.
  • Your subnet mask.
  • The interface’s gateway address.
  • DNS addresses.
  • Login type: PPPoE or PPP over ATM (PPPoA).
  • Login name and password.

You may be able to get these from your ISP in advance of your service activation, so that you will be ready to go when the day arrives. Telco technicians will install full-rate DSL connections, but the home version you will buy will involve a little labor on your part.

The self-install kits shipped along with residential DSL modems do not require the use of tools. One of your tasks will be to plug a microfilter into every active telephone jack to isolate the DSL signal from your telephones. Empty phone sockets do not need microfilters, nor does the socket serving the DSL modem.

If you have two or more telephone lines, you need only install filters on the line that will be serving the DSL modem. Microfilters resemble footlong extension cords for telephones with a lump at the end. Their purpose is to pass voice, but block high-frequency data signals, leaving those exclusively for the DSL modem to use.

It’s a good idea to count the phones, fax machines, and answering machines that will reside on the same line as your DSL modem and tell your DSL provider in advance how many microfilters you will need.

Every item on the shared line will need a filter, including the satellite TV decoder’s phone line.You can also buy more yourself from electronics stores if you are in a hurry or you add a telephone.

Microfilters also protect certain telephones. Although you cannot hear noise at 4 kHz, it has been known to produce static and whining in some telephones. Also, the data signal can confuse phones equipped with automatic level controls. Check the phone for the presence of a dial tone after you’ve installed the filters as you go from jack to jack.

Wall phones are a special case, but you will be provided with an adapter plate that is sandwiched between the wall phone and the base. After you install the adapter onto the base, the phone will hang on the adapter plate. If you don’t have spare phone jacks near your PC, you’ll be provided with a two-for-one splitter.

This small adapter simply converts one plug into two sockets. You use one of the sockets for the DSL modem without any filters and the other with a microfilter for the telephone. With everything set, installation is fairly simple:

  1. Turn all the power off.
  2. Plug one end of your short Ethernet jumper cable into the socket on your NIC card in your PC.
  3. The other end goes into the corresponding socket on the modem. This can be labeled LAN, Ethernet, or 10BaseT. If you are using a model equipped with a USB cable, plug that into an open USB port in the PC.
  4. Plug one end of the RJ-11 (phone) wire into the socket on the modem. This can be labeled line,WAN, or DSL. The other end goes into a phone jack (or the two-to-one adapter) just as though the modem were a telephone.
  5. Plug the cord from the power adapter transformer into the modem.
  6. Plug the transformer into a live wall outlet. Turn on the modem.
  7. The power indicator on the modem should light. Then other indicators will blink to show that the modem is testing itself and trying to connect to the telephone company equipment or the cable company. Check the instructions that came with it to see what the lights mean and what they should normally look like. If the sync light comes on, your line may be live.
  8. Turn on your PC. After it boots, if your NIC is working properly, it should show a green indicator light, meaning that it “sees” the DSL modem. The modem should have a similar indicator to show that it sees the NIC card.

In addition to the software drivers and IP protocol stacks that you installed to make the NIC card operate, you may also have to install software specific to your ISP. Many of them use a version of the same protocol designed originally for telephone modems, known as PPP.

Your DSL variant takes these packets and sends them over an Ethernet connection, thus giving us the protocol PPPoE. This is not included as part of the standard Windows package. If your ISP uses this method, you will have to install the software for it as well, independently of your NIC.

The software package enables your DSL modem to connect when you first turn it on, since your PC will have to supply a login name and password, just as for dial-ups.

You may be tempted to try out your connection in advance of the due date if everything is in place. It may work, although you have no reason to expect it to. If you’ve been used to a telephone dial-up, you will be pleasantly shocked at how fast your new high-speed connection runs.

It’s not as quick as industrial links, but subjectively it will be hard for you to tell the difference between it and a 10 or 100 Mbps connection, because content providers usually can’t deliver data much faster than you can receive it at home. After your broadband PC is running, here are two cautions.

First, don’t throw out your old telephone modem. If you lose your DSL connection, the dial-up will be your only door to the world and a troubleshooting tool as well. For example, your dial-up is a simple way to determine that your login and password are still valid.

Secondly, as you graduate to a Wi-Fi LAN, don’t throw away your PPPoE software. It will peacefully coexist, unused, on your laptop or other PC. You will need that for troubleshooting as well. Your DSL and/or ISP will insist that all unknown or (as they view it) nonstandard equipment is taken out of the connection before they even start to investigate.

After comparison shopping you should be able to pick the best way to make your home one strand of the World Wide Web. Research is the first and most important step toward building your home Wi-Fi network.