Old Modem, New Internet.

Do you remember the screeching of a dial-up modem as it connected to the internet? Do you miss it? Probably not, but [Erick Truter] — inspired by a forum post and a few suggestions later — turned a classic modem into a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot with the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi Zero.

Sourcing an old USRobotics USB modem — allegedly in ‘working’ condition — he proceeded to strip the modem board of many of its components to make room for the new electronic guts. [Truter] found that for him the Raspberry Pi Zero W struggled to maintain a reliable network, and so went with a standard Pi Zero and a USB  Wi-Fi dongle dongle. He also dismantled a USB hub to compensate for the Zero’s single port. Now,  to rebuild the modem — better, faster, and for the 21st century.

He was able to — with some difficulty — tap the original LEDs to act as a boot status display; additionally, the transmit and receive LEDs flash according to the traffic and the more data it’s handling, the brighter the LED glows. Setting up the Wi-Fi hotspot proved to be easier than anticipated — likewise for adding the 3G dongle and its functionality. Adding the sound was almost too much — there wasn’t enough space for a USB sound card. Instead, [Truter] whipped up a small board that channeled audio though a GPIO pin which would then connect to a speaker — good enough to emulate a modem’s banshee shrieking.

In the same vein, we recently featured a calculator that is more than meets the eye.


37 thoughts on “Old Modem, New Internet.

  1. Oh man, it’s only 14.4k. Hopefully v.fast will be out soon and we can use 28.8k… TWICE AS FAST! What’s funny to me is that
    that “modem” has more processing power than the computer that ran it back in the day. It would be fun to use one of those as a telnet BBS :)

        1. Ah, there were some modems that’d fall for that, humorists on Usenet would add it to their sigs. It’s cos US Robotics (I think) patented the thing where the modem would only start listening for +++ after a few seconds of no data. So some modems had to be ready for it all the time.

          Most didn’t, though, and I can’t remember how they got round that. Certainly wasn’t by paying US Robotics. And this was a while before the Chinese and their attitude to intellectual property dominated all product manufacturing.

  2. I think a lot of people would be surprised what one can accomplish with even a slow dialup connection. I used to do a lot of real work at 19,2k even after I had a ‘high speed’ cable modem at home.

    This was back in the ‘naughts’. As a side job I was working on a website for a startup, not a static site t was a rather involved PHP application that I was writing from scratch. This was in my single, recently out of college days and I was doing this in my off-hours outside of my day job. I quickly found that working at home was way too much of a hermit life for me.

    To get away from the apartment I would spend hours working on this project at a coffee shop. Back in those days WiFi was a thing but free WiFi was rare. People in a few lucky cities and lot’s of money to burn could use Ricochet. What I had was my Nextel brick. For something like $5 / month they would turn on some service whose name I have forgotten and that was already considered obsolete and completely unadvertised. This plus a serial cable off of eBay would allow me to use my Nextel brick phone like an old-school modem with a max speed of 19.2k connected to a landline. I even still needed an ISP to dial into! Luckily I had a plan with unlimited minutes to anywhere within the US (yes, this counts as a phone call) and dialup could be obtained for free at a site called freedialup.org.

    With my 19.2 connection anything graphical of course was wicked slow. But.. most of my work was writing database schema, html forms and all the code that goes in between. I could get a lot of work done with ‘display images’ turned off on my browser. I only really needed them at the end of a section when it was time to make everything pretty. For that I could go home or just buy 1 hour of the expensive coffee shop wifi. 19.2k is certainly much faster than I can type, editing code in Emacs within an ssh terminal was a breeze. Testing that code by loading pages sans images was only marginally slower.

    It’s probably been 15 years since I have tried this but I can’t think of any reason the same strategy wouldn’t work for someone who for some reason only had access to such a slow connection.

    Oh.. and some years before that.. when I was still in college and had just moved from the dorms to my first apartment… my roomates and I were ‘spoiled’ by the campus ethernet connection. Fighting over an internet connection and waiting for the slow connection had us very impatiently waiting for cable or DSL to reach our neighborhood. In the mean time I set up an old computer running Windows 98 in our living room (My Linux Fu was still young and immature) and a LAN to connect it to the computers in our bedrooms. I had a program called WinGate on it which acted as a proxy server, a NAT, and a web cache. It even had an app that my roomate could run on his Windows PC so that he could tell it to dial in or hang up without having to walk to the livingroom. Unfortunately that part only worked for him because there was no Linux version and I was running Linux on my desktop. Soon later they added a feature where it automatically detected internet requests and dialed in so that worked for me.

    The most relevant feature to this story though was that web cache. After seeing a few stale news articles I set it to not cache html but kept it caching images, flash and other media files. When it came to visiting common sites where one of us had likely been there already within the past few days that was great. We could almost forget we weren’t still on that campus network… and all that was with a mere 56k modem!

    Of course.. this is mostly a ‘when you have nothing better available’ sort of thing. I do prefer my cable modem and LTE!

    1. My first experience of doing any kind of IP traffic from home was when I used a 1200 modem to connect to work using SLIP. Slow, but I was able to FTP files back and forth from/to my Unix workstation at work.

      1. 1200Baud? You were lucky. I lived in the sticks where Compuserve was a long-distance phone call, as was the nearest BBS. As a student meteorologist, I got my case-studies (weather charts) over a 75bps radiofax setup.

  3. note to HAD editors:

    if all you have is either a twatter link or video (only) link, I’m not clicking it. no time for either one.

    please stop with the video-only stuff. waste of time. if the project is worth doing, it deserves some text (video is ok when its additional, but NOT when that’s the ONLY thing).


    1. Re: videos.

      Here’s the problem. You’re complaining at Hackaday, the people who _do_ actually type up a summary in words, because someone else — who does the hacking — made a video instead.

      I’m not sure you’ve really got any standing to complain about either.

      1. I think he’s asking for more stories to be covered where the creator has bothered to write an article, rather than ones that just have videos.

        I agree. I never watch the videos either. Videos are for showing off your stuff to the normies. I want to know how stuff actually works, for which text still hasn’t been beaten. With maybe a few nice diagrams and photos.

        Since you’re the site that brings these projects to our attention, you’re the correct people to ask. There’s very little to learn from video-only articles, and I like learning about how stuff works, which is why I come here.

  4. note to HaD editors:

    blah blah blah I’m entitled blah blah blah please cater your site to my opinion blah blah see I can do it better than you blah blah constitution of US blah blah freedom of speech blah blah nobody else matters. blah blah blah.

  5. Entertaining build but the continual references in the video to a “USB Robotics” modem… It’s “USRobotics”!

    That and the wrong sound file for 14.4.

    Otherwise, pretty funny build.

  6. Or… you could just buy a Mifi dongle that’d work better. Or use any modern mobile phone as a hotspot.

    It wouldn’t be inside an old modem case, but you could probably stick a dismantled charger in there or something if you wanted to.

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