An Example of a Linux Compatible 56K Dial-Up Modem(PCI) +1 Linux Convert

So the other day I found out that a neighbor of ours was in need of a "donated" computer system to be able to access her Email and the Internet. I heard about this and immediately I thought, "This is a GNU/Linux convert waiting to happen!"

Being a frugal, retired person, what my neighbor didn't want was a monthly Internet bill. This is where comes to the rescue with FREE 56k dial-up access. What's better is that no software is needed to access the service. Simply plugin your local access phone number, username, and password for your free dial-up service and you then connect right away.

So here's the story of me setting out to make a happy new "Linux Convert" out of my neighbor using a Intel PIII based Linux computer and the PCTEL 56k dial-up PCI modem.

I've seen many horror stories around the Internet of people saying that dial-up is not possible with GNU/Linux, and the truth is -they're lying. Just Kidding...well mostly. I don't mean to call people liars(perhaps some are financially motivated to say bad things about Linux), rather I think the problem is that some people just are not willing dig deep enough to fix a problem they have with Linux. Some of these distraught and non-freedom attaining users end up going around bashing Linux instead. If only they had met someone like me(and many others like me), someone who could help them experience the true Freedom and value of the GNU/Linux!

As for truly great resources for the Linuxer who is seeking to use dial-up Internet access, one of the most indispensable examples of goodness is the Linmodems support page and more particularly the scanModem utility located there.

The scanModem utility is an easy-to-use script that scans your machine to find any modem that is plugged in and then create resources to be used to get your modem driver installed on you on the dial-up Internet.

Using the scanModem utility is easy. It gets downloaded, extracted(can do this via right-click in Ubuntu), set to executable (using chmod 755 scanModem from the terminal), then executed ./scanModem from the terminal. The result will be a newly created directory named Modem, which will contain many resources (in the form of text files) that are created specifically for your machine, which will include information on a download location and/or other instructions for installing and using your modem Linux driver. You would then go about downloading the Linux modem driver that matches your device and then getting it set up.

The quality of the scanModem utility is only exceeded by the willingness to help and technical expertise of the great people at the Linmodems support forum (People like Marv S. for example). If you find any of my instructions confusing, pop over to
Linmodems support for more information.

Some modems are easier to setup than others, depending usually on how open-source friendly the OEM was/is with the sharing of the modem driver specifications for Linux programmers to be able to create drivers for the device.

For instance, I had a Conexant PCI modem that I found to be supported by, but the 56k Linux modem drivers came with a fee. So this particular modem wasn't going to do for me, so per the recommendation of the Linmodems support posters, I installed the PCTEL PCI modem instead.

The driver I downloaded for my PCTEL modem was available from the pctel-linux section of the linmodems website. The scanModem utility indicated the PCTEL modem I have is:
134d:7891   PCtel HSP MicroModem 56   PCT 789T       pct789
Before running teh PCTEL modem driver installer (and before compiling any software), I first installed the necessary Linux source code and build tools using:
sudo apt-get install build-essential
sudo apt-get install linux-headers-`uname -r`
After the drivers for the PCTEL were installed, I first ran the wvdialconf program, which detects the modem and creates the /etc/wvdial.conf configuration file.
sudo wvdialconf
I also installed the gnome-ppp graphical dialup utility (using my wireless USB Internet connection):
sudo apt-get install gnome-ppp

I then configured both the gnome-ppp dialer, using the setup button, and the /etc/wvdial.conf configuration file(not sure this is required after the gnome-ppp) with the username, password, and dialup access number.

One final configuration point was that after rebooting, the PCTEL modem driver was not automatically reloading. This is because the kernel module configuration was not set to insert the modem driver on machine boot-up. There are a few ways to fix this, some being more procedurally correct than others. The way I fixed it was to edit the /etc/init.d/rc.local script file, using sudo gedit /etc/init.d/rc.local (save a copy for backup first!) and added the following line at the end of the script:
modprobe pctel

Special note for users: If you're using Ubuntu(or similar) Linux, you'll need to comment out the restriction for the dialup username "guest" in your /etc/ppp/pap-secrets file by placing a # in front of the line "guest hostname "*" -"
gksu gedit /etc/ppp/pap-secrets
#guest hostname "*" -
After all configuration points were set, I tested the connection with about 10 connection iterations, and I let the modem stay online for about 30 mins - everything checked out.

Get your PCTEL PCI modem from ebay here:

Here's a picture of the PCTEL Modem plugged into a BYO - PIII computer running Ubuntu 9.04 GNU/Linux:

Finally the payoff - I brought the machine over to my neighbor, spent just a little bit of time explaining some of the many, many things she could do with GNU/Linux, and set her on her way to her new found Freedom in computing. She was tickled pink, to say the least.

Another happy GNU/Linux convert!!

Go Freedom!! Go GNU/Linux!!
Break the glass!!

Shannon VanWagner


  1. Thanks the thing.......

    I have a CONEXANT modem, and I have cable right now but JUST WHAT IF.... I had to go back to Dialup? I would be SCREWED... Where I live Cable is very HERE and THERE. I have a Dell Dimension E521 and a Conexant Modem.... I dont want to pay 20.00 for a file to let me dialup.....

    I mean I am lucky right now I have cable but just what if I move to an area where its HIT AND MISS?

    I would have to give up *NIX and go back to windows.. I am still in windows for now.... Due to the fact our cable internet is fixing to sky rocket so I dont know whats going to happen.... I just dont want to get into something then HAVE to go back to windows... I wanna be in for the long haul

    --- Christopher

  2. @christopher -- I would boot to the Ubuntu LiveCD and then run the scanModem script to see what you have. You can then check with the scanModem support site to see what your options are.

    Worst case scenario - you could pickup a PCTEL modem (which is known to work with Linux and has FREE drivers) for $10(shipped) - checkout this ebay page:

    If you're not ready to commit the $10, then perhaps you could simply setup your machine to dual-boot Linux/Windows(The Linux being the OS primarily used, of course), this way you could have a fall back.

    One way or the other, you owe yourself the Freedom!!



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