Golden Geek Memories: Before SOHO LANs and Broadband

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This morning, it struck me how complacent I am that I have high-bandwidth broadband access almost everywhere I go, from the wired LAN in this Small-Office/Home-Office (SOHO) household, through the ADSL high-speed internet connection, over Wi-Fi and 3G, and in hotspot, transport, and hotel connectivity.  It is disturbing when the 3G can’t deliver or I find a terribly-sluggish Wi-Fi connection in a supermarket!

It wasn’t that long ago that connectivity was slow, hard to come by, and sometimes rather expensive.

1970 Stone-Age Beginnings

At the beginning of the home microcomputer era, now over 30 years ago, 300 baud modems with acoustic couplers were the norm.  (The baud designation related to the nature of the analog signal and was the same as the bit rate only at the beginning.)

1980 Bronze-Age Artifacts

The great 1980s advances for me were to 1200 and 2400 baud modems with Hayes command sets and direct connections to the household telephone circuit.  That provided regular connectivity by the time my main computers were Heathkit H89s and I had my first hard drive (5MB in a chassis that weighed 70 pounds).  What made that so tolerable, and exciting, was the abandonment of requirements for special telephone protective devices, the use of ordinary telephone circuits, and the fact that all communication was basically text and downloads/uploads were small.  This arrangement continued when I threw in my CP/M 80 towel and acquired a 1985-model Heath-Zenith PC/XT clone running MS-DOS and, ultimately, Windows 1.03 to 3.1, all on 8-bit hardware.

1990 Age of Iron and Steam

I’m unsure about the actual span of the 1990s move to integrated or PC-card modems that brought the phone line right to the computer.  I tended to be a late adopter of more-expensive connectivity arrangements.  But the prospect of 56k bps through various compression, handshake, and cooperative telco arrangements became the norm.  My first Intel Pentium systems all had built-in or add-in dial-up adapters.  There was a little confusion before dial-up adapters all converged on the common standard for that speed.  On reflection, that seems to have happened easier than the current situation with cellular phones and emergency communication systems.  Meanwhile, it was still all dial-up for me and the household.  We managed on-line time by having a second phone line that also served as a fax number.  I remember having to commit minor surgery at the pre-wired phone jacks in my Sunnyvale, California, townhome to have the single outlets provide dual-line connectivity everywhere.

I had acquired an Ethernet hub while still using dial-up connectivity to the Internet.  This was used simply to connect two desktop systems that I had, allowing sharing of a SCSI chain of Iomega drives, including an amazing 1GB Jaz drive.  (I’ve long since lost the ability to operate the Jaz drive.  I wonder if the Astraendo Windows 7 system might be able to use that old SCSI adapter?  What a thought.)

2000 Proto-Information Age Connectivity

Although low-end workgroup computing is almost synonymous with the introduction of Windows 3.1 in the early 90s, I did not entertain setting up a SOHO LAN until I was offered broad-band ADSL in a call from Qwest.

In 2001 we had moved into a home in West Seattle that was about 1.5 short city blocks from the local switching office. Not only was I offered broadband, but I was told that the best-qualified circuit to use was the old solid-copper POTS line into the house, not the late-addition second-line circuit that was also present. Smiling, I went for it.

There were three computers to connect in order to share the ADSL connection. That inspired the move to a wired LAN hubbed on a residential router/gateway to DSL. Thus began the official Centrale SOHO LAN.

As a side note, Wi-Fi was just being promoted as an alternative to wired LAN in households. I was having none of it at that time. All of the equipment being operated was pre-2000 vintage and there were no native Wi-Fi devices in the household.

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This page contains a single entry by Dennis E. Hamilton published on February 11, 2011 11:50 AM.

Astraendo: First Things First was the previous entry in this blog.

Scampo Vigil: Near-Death Experiences is the next entry in this blog.

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