Those Dastardly Disconnects! from the April 2000 Actrix Newsletter

by Rob Zorn

Disconnects have got to be one of the biggest banes of the Help Desk world! Nothing disgruntles a customer as quickly as a run of unexpected disconnects, and there are few things more disheartening than a lost download. Contrary to popular belief, and despite what message your platform my pop up at you when a disconnect occurs, Actrix does not actively bump people off the line. We reserve the right to do it sometimes, but in all my time here, we have never done it on purpose.

Occasional disconnects are bound to happen due to irregularities along the phone line. When it rains, or when it's cold and damp, line conditions will be much worse and disconnects will be more common. If you're in a rural area, or close to electric fences, you are more likely to have disconnect and/or speed problems. Your distance from your local telephone exchange can also play a part. I remember dealing with one customer over many evenings. It turns out he was being disconnected because he was too close to the exchange!

Now disconnects are a fact of internet life. It will happen to everyone occasionally. This is just the nature of the internet beast. Everyone will drop a connection now and then, but what can be done if you're one of those poor people against whom events and conditions have really seemed to conspire?

One common cause of disconnects is modems connecting at too fast a speed for current conditions which leads to your modem frequently having to re-negotiate its speed. Often this fails and the line is dropped. You cannot at all rely on your local phone lines to be able to match the maximum speed of your modem (hence Telecom will guarantee you no more than a 9.6K connection). With a 56K modem, you should not expect a connection speed of more than 48k, and if you do achieve more, you can expect more frequent disconnects. Try dropping the maximum speed of your modem (under modems/properties in your Control Panel). If that stops the disconnects, then local phone line quality is most likely the problem. Disconnected?
A second common cause of disconnects is modem incompatibilities. To lessen the chance of this you should try to be sure you have the latest firmware/drivers for your modem. You should definitely not assume that just because you have purchased your modem or computer recently that it came with the latest drivers. Modem drivers are being updated and improved all the time, and if you are having modem difficulties, it is best to upgrade your modem drivers before you blame anything else. Try entering your modem into a search engine to find a site where you can download the latest drivers.
Try searching at sites like www.56k.com which has a wealth of information on 56k modems as well as an excellent trouble shooting guide. Www. windrivers.com has a big list of hardware manufacturers and their websites where the latest drivers can usually be found. Downloading and installing the latest drivers for your modem is usually an easy step-through process.
The statement, "My modem works fine with that other ISP but not with you," is not particularly helpful. Every modem will be compatible with someone's system, but there isn't a modem produced yet that is perfectly compatible with every system.

A third cause of frequent disconnects is line noise. Unplugging everything connected to your phonelines may help: caller ID boxes, extension telephones, cordless telephones, other modems, fax machines etc. Unplug your laser or deskjet printer from the wall outlet. Surge protectors and noise filters may also impair your phone line. If the problem goes away, you have something in your house causing the disconnects. It may seem silly, but you could even try taping your phone cord away from all electrical appliances.

If the line noise is not coming from within your home, it may be occurring because of something between your house and your local exchange. It is always worthwhile to ask your phone company to check your line for noise. If possible, get them to come out to your house and physically check it rather than just checking it from the central office.

Sometimes a loose or defective cable will cause disconnects. Make sure serial connections are tight, adapter pins aren't bent and that there are no cracks or nasty twists in the cable. Examine your cable carefully. It might even be a good idea to replace it, or experiment with swapping it around with another one.

Other Possible Disconnect Causes

Call Waiting - If you have call waiting and it is not disabled, an incoming call will usually cause your internet connection to drop. Because the phone will not ring when this happens, it is not always immediately apparent that an incoming call was the cause of the disconnect. In New Zealand you need to dial *52 before the connection number to disable call waiting (#29 if you are a Saturn customer). You can add this to the phone number in your dialup networking, but perhaps the best way is to put it into your dialling properties (or telephony) and make sure that dialling properties box is ticked in your dialup networking program.

Hardware Conflict - If your internal modem card is configured in conflict with another COM port (and believe me this happens too often) it may seem to work fine for a few minutes, and then it will simply freeze. If you find that describes your situation, you may want to consult a software expert or computer shop.

Automatic Disconnects - Your modem may be set to disconnect after a certain period of inactivity. Within the Windows platform, under modem properties, there is a setting for this. It is usually twenty minutes by default, and it is unlikely that this setting is causing frequent disconnects. In order to be thorough, though, it is a good idea to uncheck this setting.

Generally speaking, you should be able to hold your connection as long as you wish. There will always be occasional disconnects, because we are dealing with phone lines pushed to the very limit of their capacity when using the latest generation of modems. However, you should not get repeated disconnects. If you do, then something is not right and perhaps this article will help you work through some steps to isolate and correct the problem.