Broadband Cable Internet and RISC OS
ntl: recently offered me a broadband (128kbps) cable internet connection for £15 a month more than I was paying for phone only from them. That sounded good as I have been paying more than that for phone calls (0845 number) for my ‘free’ ISP. I do have an elderly Windows 95 box (called Percy) with network card in it which was (and is again) networked to my printer and RiscPC (called Risco) so I knew I could connect with that to the cable modem built into the Pace set-top-box (stb) that ntl: would supply. I agreed to the deal, agreed an installation day, and a couple of days later received the connection CD which I loaded into Percy - only to be told that the software on it will not work with Win95 (Win98 or later, or MacOS 8.6 - 9.1).
I phoned the support line and was given the details I’d need to set up Win95 together with a warning that ntl: will not support Win95 if I run into problems:
When the stb was installed, complete with cross-over connector and standard RJ45 ethernet cable, I followed the instructions above and established the connection to the internet from Win95 without problem.
That was working but I wanted email and newsgroups on Risco (I am happy with the Ant Internet Suite and Marcel) and have already got the filters set up for mailing lists into newsgroup folders and children’s email into their own Marcel mailbox so was still dialling up to fetch mail and news. I already have a network card in Risco and one in Percy. I need some way of sharing the internet connection so considered the options:
It looks as though cost is similar whichever way I go, and time was becoming more of an issue. I’m not really wanting to change to Win98. Percy is only a Cyrix 133Mhz based machine with 48MbRAM - would be ideal for netBSD, but that would mean no Windows machine for Tim (age 12) to play games. I would like to learn netBSD but I haven’t really got the time at present to go down that route. Power consumption (and noise) of a pc is more than a small router. I decided to get a router.
There are various suitable routers available from different manufacturers, marked as broadband or cable/DSL routers. They all seem to offer the same basic facilities: 1 ethernet WAN connection, 4 (or more) port 10/100M ethernet switch allowing anything from 4 computers connected directly up to a total of 253 devices connected through hubs or switches, the router providing IP addresses using DHCP. The deals offered vary, some including a couple of network cards for pcs.
I chose the Netgear RP114 because I already have a Netgear combined ethernet hub/Print Server (PS105) and Netgear equipment is reasonably priced. This is advertised around £65 + VAT and carriage - total cost to me £82.18 from Microwarehouse. The package contains the router, fat plug transformer, Cat5 ethernet cable suitable for a 100M connection (if you have a 100M ethernet card) and a CD with Reference guide and Application notes - some of it in html to be read in a web browser, some as Adobe PDF files to be read with !Pdf or !Riscript under RISC OS (Acrobat reader on Windows or Mac).
Unpack it and the instructions are clear. To configure the router you need to put http://192.168.0.1 (the router’s address) into your browser’s address field, so you need to ensure no other device on the network is using that address. Windows and Macintosh (and Linux/netBSD) can be set to get an address from the router using DHCP but a RISC OS machine will need an address configuring. This can be done with either !Internet configuration tool or the Ant Internet Suite. As I’m using the Ant Suite for fetching mail and news, and Fresco as my web browser I’m playing safe and setting up the network settings there. Setup is fairly simple: choose an IP address from the available range for Risco - I chose 192.168.0.2 - set the mask to class C (255.255.255.0), the router provides Name server and Gateway functions so configure both of those to 192.168.0.1 and save the configuration. (With Select 4.29 it is possible to set up the RISC OS !Internet to use DHCP, but I haven’t tried yet with the Ant Suite - I’m waiting for someone else to figure it out and write the instructions.)
Connect it up as instructed, boot router and wait a minute before powering all computers on the network. I cheated - I only switched on Risco at this stage, not Percy. Remove power from broadband (cable or ADSL) modem and power it up again. Run your browser, go to http://192.168.0.1 and you see the router configuration utility. I worked through the configuration wizard, but left everything as default. One interesting option is to spoof the MAC address of a computer on the network. As ntlworld registers individual pcs to the broadband connection account and I had already set up Percy, if Percy was switched on I could have told the router to pretend to ntlworld that it was Percy and I wouldn’t then have had to re-run the ntl setup. I chose not to do that to see if it is possible to connect to ntlworld broadband without a pc.
Having done that and proved the home network is working, it is necessary to configure ntlworld, again from the browser. This went through as easily with Fresco on Risco as it had with Internet Explorer on Percy. I had to choose a name for the router as part of the configuration - I chose Navvy because navvies started building the navigations (canals) and have continued building routes for all sorts of traffic since. Re-boot the stb and Risco and we have the broadband connection on Risco. I needed to re-configure the Ant Suite to send mail out through ntlworld’s smtp server, and to fetch news from their news server as my other ISP prevents use of those servers from outside their own network. Fetching mail is still fine.
I also re-configured Paul Vigay’s AntUtils so it knows we have a LAN connection to the internet and now it fetches mail every 15 minutes while the Ant Suite is running providing networking. With Quick send on outgoing mail doesn’t sit in the queue but goes as soon as it gets into the queue.
I now read usenet newsgroups online, instead of downloading and storing copies on Risco. I have set up an account in the Ant Suite which receives all the junk mail not otherwise filtered and use that account with my chosen spambin reply address for newsgroups.
I still use the modem, connected Risco, to keep my ‘free’ ISP account open and maintain the website I have with them. this is as simple as ticking the Modem option in the Ant Suite’s main configuration window, then choose the connect option.
What a long article for something that was simple and straightforward!
Is broadband worth it? For the convenience of “always on”, and the extra speed of (only) 128k download against the 48k(ish) I was getting with the modem, certainly. My daughter has discovered MSN Messenger and now likes to sit for an evening with Percy on and Messenger running a number of conversations while revising or doing homework - this would not be feasible with a phone bill to worry about. I am also now much more relaxed about how much and when we browse the internet.
The above was originally written for and published in Archive Magazine Volume 15 number 10 (July 2002) and remains my copyright.