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What is a Modem?

The modem is a device that connects computers to telephone lines and allows people to connect and access the internet from home. It works like this: The modem receives what you type from your computer, then sends what you’re typing to the other computer, and then receives what the other computer sends back through telegraphy. Some of those modems also have “settings” which tell it how fast to send information across the phone line.

The word modem means Modulation and demodulation.

The majority of what was used back in the day was called to be a “56k modem” because it sends data at 56 kilobytes per second. Most modems also have what is known as “error-correcting codes”. They correct “errors that occur in the phone lines” caused by electrical interference, unexpected noise, or other such problems.

A quick way to explain how a modem works is to say that what you type into the computer is converted from what you typed to what the modem understands which sounds like a bunch of gibberish, is sent across the phone line as what could be called letters and numbers (though their actual syntax will depend on what the receiving system expects), then it converts what was received into what you just typed in. If everything goes well, what came out is exactly what you typed in. Of course, there are many more steps than I described, but that’s essentially how they work!

The very first use of modems was known as Arpanet where computers were connected via telephone lines for research purposes. That is not even close to how we know them today though; ouch… back in those days

The history on how modems were discovered goes all the way back to 1837 when Samuel Finley Breese Morse developed what is known today as Morse Code ( a way of sending what you’re typing using a series of long and short beeps, much like what we know today as what an old fashioned telegram looks like). That was the first device that allowed people to send information from one place to another without physically being there.

Modems have been around since the beginning of computer systems when they were used with what is known as a UNIX system. The first modems were what are known as “300-baud” which means it took five minutes to transfer one page of text online (much like what dial-up services do). It wasn’t until 1963 that the 2400-baud modem came out which can send six full pages of text in 30 min. Oh, how things have changed.

Modems have changed quite a bit over the years from what they used to look like which required you to connect it directly into your telephone line, and even requiring “Null Modem Cables” so that you could actually connect two devices together without having them physically being connected. (for example, if you wanted to play games on what is known as “Battle Net”

Today’s modems include wireless internet and what is called “integrated services digital network” which is what allows what is known as DSL or local access to the internet (which is much like what cable service uses).

Modems are pretty fun and they allow people today to do what would’ve been impossible before them. They also allow you to connect your computer to other computers in what we now call The World Wide Web.

The modem was invented by two men. One of those men was Ralph Benjamin from England, who built the “Teletype Modem” that used telegraphy instead of what the Morse Code did. The other man from America was named Donald Davies: he went on to create the first modem that used “packet switching” which allowed modems to send multiple instructions at one time.

Modems were created in 1947 and they started to be commercialized in 1961 by a company called Bell Labs (who invented what we know today as DSL). The first modem that had “settings” came out in 1979, which allowed users to pick what speed they wanted their modem to be able to send information with.

What happened after the first modems were created is what most people would consider history: mass communication via telephone lines became possible thanks to those two men who changed how we communicate today, but most importantly they gave us something that has changed the world.

The modem allowed the internet to exist.


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Jason Kearney

Jason Kearney


Jason is the head technician and founder of SECURE A COM. He has worked in the industry since 1998. Working on Telstra infrastructure projects, install and maintenance contracts, and now runs SECURE A COM servicing  B2B and B2C customers.

We are the best private NBN technician service you will find anywhere. We are ACMA registered technician who has been servicing our Sydney clients for over 15 years. We can do the same for you.

Phone:  02 9188 1577

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