Broadband Internet Connections

Web Supplement: Drivers for Broadband Modems
by Rod Smith, rodsmith@rodsbooks.com



Buy the book As noted in my book, Broadband Internet Connections, drivers for broadband modems aren't always easy to come by, especially for Linux or less popular OSs. As a general rule, the safest course of action is to use an external Ethernet-interfaced modem. These are the most common type of cable modem, although many cable modems introduced in 2001 include both Ethernet and USB interfaces. (The USB interfaces are usually reputed to be more trouble-prone than the Ethernet interfaces, even when used under Windows.) DSL modems more commonly come in internal or USB-interfaced form, and some DSL ISPs provide only one of these modem types.

Increasingly, you can find broadband modems (especially cable modems) for sale at local retailers like CompUSA, Fry's Electronics, or Circuit City. Online retailers, such as TC Computers, Comp-U-Plus, and Outpost.com, also carry broadband modems. A few manufacturers, such as ZyXEL and Westell, sell their products direct to consumers. You can also often find good deals on used equipment on auction sites like eBay. Wherever you buy, make sure the device you purchase is compatible with your provider's equipment, as described in my book. In particular, check that a cable modem is DOCSIS compliant, or uses whatever protocol your cable company uses rather than DOCSIS; and check that a DSL modem is of the correct type (ADSL, SDSL, and so on) and sub-type (DMT or CAP ADSL, for instance). If possible, buy a modem that's on your ISP's list of supported equipment, to avoid finger-pointing about the cause of any problems you might experience.

Internal DSL Modems

Internal DSL modems are network cards that "speak" the low-level DSL protocols directly. This type of hardware, like any hardware, requires drivers in order to function. Unfortunately, at the moment, non-Windows drivers for internal DSL modems are virtually nonexistent. Therefore, if you're not using Windows, chances are you'll need to acquire an external DSL modem which connects to the computer via an Ethernet line.

I have heard of several internal DSL modems with Linux drivers:

If you hear of any internal DSL modem that's supported by any non-Windows OS, please drop me a line with the information, and I'll mention it here.

USB DSL Modems

Like internal DSL modems, USB DSL modems require special drivers to function. An OS's basic USB drivers are not sufficient; these provide only the ability to talk to USB devices generically, not to handle specific devices such as USB modems. You will need a driver for your specific model of modem.

As of June of 2002, I know of only three USB DSL modems for which non-Windows drivers exist:

If you have some other USB DSL modem, you can try asking the manufacturer for drivers, or check the Linux USB Web site for information on Linux driver developments. If you have no luck, you may need to buy an Ethernet-interfaced DSL modem and sell the USB model to recover most of the cost.

If you hear of any USB DSL modem that's supported by any non-Windows OS, please drop me a line with the information, and I'll mention it here.

Internal and USB Cable Modems

Internal cable modems are extremely rare, although there are a few models available. I know of only one non-Windows driver for such a device: The Linux kernel includes support for the General Instruments Surfboard 1000, an old one-way cable modem. Because this driver is part of the Linux kernel, you should check your kernel and module configuration to see if the driver is available on your system. If it's not, you'll have to recompile your kernel, or at least that one module.

As noted earlier, many cable modems introduced in 2001 include both Ethernet and USB interfaces, but there are few USB-only devices. Even in Windows, for which USB drivers for dual-interface devices are most common, it's best to use the Ethernet interface, which tends to be less finicky than the USB interface.

If you hear of any internal or USB cable modem that's supported by any non-Windows OS, please drop me a line with the information, and I'll mention it here.


Copyright © 2001 by Roderick W. Smith, rodsmith@rodsbooks.com

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