A look at a pair of Ethernet DSL bridges

By Steve Antonoff, ITworld.com |  Networking

If Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) service isn't available at your location, it
probably will be soon. The telephone companies have finally started acting like high
speed Internet access isn't something they want to hand off to the long distance
carriers or the cable TV companies. As you probably know, DSL provides a digital
signal on top of the same wires used to deliver conventional telephone service.

DSL operates in a frequency range that does not interfere -- too much, anyway -- with
normal telephone usage. To block any stray noise, one or more filters are installed,
either on each phone or at the place where the DSL can be split off. The current state-
of-affairs is that you probably won't have much choice of which DSL bridge to install:
the ISP you choose will dictate which one to use and if you use any other type they'll
hit you with their favorite mantra: "We Won't Support You". However, this is bound to
change -- remember when you couldn't buy a phone at all, much less get one from anyone
other than the phone company? So, with an anticipatory spirit, I sought about
acquiring what a couple of Ethernet DSL bridges to compare.

I wound up with two devices, one provided by my ISP, the other provided by the bridge
vendor. My ISP, BELLSouth Internet Service, uses Alcatel and the bridge that comes
with my account there is an Alcatel Speed Touch Home. Mindsprint/Earthlink uses ZyXEL
and ZyXEL was kind enough to provide a Prestige 642M. Alcatel calls their device
a "modem", ZyXEL uses the correct term and calls it a bridge. Both of these are
intended to be single-user devices but can be used to interface a network with some
external support. They are not routers, however.

To interface the devices to the computer, Efficient Networks EnterNet 300 software was
installed. Because I have a dual CPU machine, I had to get my own copy of the software
from Efficient Networks. BELLSouth has yet
to upgrade to version 1.4 which supports SMP. Warning: while you can download the
software from the Efficient Networks site on a 30-day demo and pay for a license,
Efficient Networks offers no end-user support without a support contract.

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