Dial-up modem on a modern Mac?

My parents live in a rural area with only analog phone lines. There’s no cell service, nor cable service. The hills also limit access to satellite service. They’re still using Snow Leopard and related software. The only internet service available is analog dial-up. That has been adequate until recently. Evolving protocols, especially around browsers and web pages is becoming severely limiting. For example, many web pages fail to display because there’s no common secure protocol available in their browser.

In an effort to update to modern software, modern hardware is required. In this case, the modern system will need to support a dial-up modems. In my search, I’ve failed to find any viable modem solution for a modern system.

Does anyone know of a dial-up modem and driver software that would work for a modern Mac, preferably something like a recent or current MacBook Air?

(Or, is this a fool’s errand?)

It appears that current Mac software supports dial-up modems directly. Here is the Apple support page.

I see several dial-up modems available on Amazon . Most talk about Windows compatibility, but my suspicion is that they will also work directly with a Mac. Amazon and other online stores do have generous no-questions-asked return policies; so it’s worth ordering one and, if it doesn’t work, just return it. Note that the modems use good-old USB for connection to the computer; you’ll need a USB-C adapter cable or hub for a modern Mac with only USB-C ports.

The real issue may be finding an ISP with a local phone number. You might try looking here and here or just typing ‘dial-up isp’ into a search engine.

I recall, seemingly mistakenly, that Apple dropped support for dial-up modems in macOS sometime in the last 4 or 5 years. I’m a bit surprised to see dial-up documentation for Big Sur.

Buying an inexpensive modem to is certainly the way to test it. I’ll give it as shot on my MacBook Pro and see if it works.

Thank you.

Be sure to read reviews of modems before assuming Mac compatibility. Dial up modems generally come in two versions: Hardware modems and software modems.

A hardware modem (sometimes sold as “controller-based”) has a dedicated chip for encoding/decoding data into audio for the phone line. In the past, these would connect to a computer via a serial port. Today, they will probably connect via USB, emulating a serial port.

A software modem (sometimes known as a “winmodem”) is really a fancy sound card (audio device) connected to the phone line. Software (part of a device driver) is responsible for encoding/decoding the data. Without compatible software, the device can not be used. After looking at some product reviews, it appears that they don’t even include the software - they expect your OS (typically Windows) to auto-detect the hardware and download device drivers from a server somewhere. In the past, these would either be built-in to a computer’s motherboard or installed in an expansion slot. Today, they are most likely to be USB devices.

The advantage of a hardware modem is that it requires no special device drivers and should be compatible with any computer that can be physically connected to it. Using a hardware modem consumes very little CPU resources because all of the heavy lifting (encoding/decoding the audio) is done in the device - your computer only sends/receives data bits.

The advantage of a software modem is that it usually costs less and it can (in theory) gain new features with an update to its software. Some can actually be used as a generic audio device connected to the phone line, allowing software to use it for implementing a voice mail system or a phone-tree menu system.

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