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Network your modem

Preface

If you're reading this, odds are very good that you both a) have access to the internet and b) have (or want to have) a home network. It's also possible to combine both of these, so that your entire home network has access to the internet through a single modem connection (whether your connection be dial-up, cable modem, ISDN, or whatever). Of course, your total network access speed is still limited to the maximum speed of the modem connection, but you save money on extra modems and the hassle of fighting for online time with friends and relatives.

So how do I move the info back and forth?

Naturally, when you pass information from your network to the internet, you need to be able to send information both directions. The device that passes (or routes) the information along is called a router. A router may sound like something that you'd find in Sears along with a bunch of extra widget attachments, but it's actually just something that acts as a glorified traffic cop between your network and the internet. This kind of information routing ability isn't built-in to the MacOS, however; you need a piece of hardware or software to do the work for you. Software routers are cheaper than hardware routers, but require you to use a "host" Mac to handle the routing.

The trouble with IP addresses

Every Mac on your network has an IP address that identifies it to the rest of the network. So does every computer on the internet. However, each connection, network and internet, requires a unique IP address; how does one do this a single Mac? The answer is a technique called multihoming, which allows a single computer to support multiple IP addresses. This technology is fairly new, especially in a low-cost form available to people like you and me. Some people prefer this method over programs like Internet Gateway, since it uses the internet's native TCP/IP protocols to pass data around, but they both work about the same (that is to say, they work).

Software overview: Sustainable Softworks' IPNetRouter

IPNetRouter, a piece of software that handles multihoming and multi-user internet connection, is the product of Peter Sichel and Sustainable Softworks. IPNetRouter acts as a software router that redirects TCP/IP traffic from a single internet connection to any number of computers on the local network. The Sustainable Softworks site includes a variety of setup instructions for these kind of connections, including dial-up modems, cable modems, ISDN, and ADSL. IPNetRouter is $89 (unlimited users).

Software overview: Vicom Tech's SurfDoubler

Vicom's SoftRouter Plus' primary function is to allow multiple users to access the internet through a single account, but it also shares many of the features of Vicom's Internet Gateway (a built-in DHCP server to handle the local network's TCP/IP configuration automatically, an automated security firewall to prevent outside access, and others). Vicom provides a downloadable demo of SoftRouter Plus. The 5-user version is $190, 10-user is $280, and unlimited user is $430.

Software overview: Vicom Tech's Internet Gateway

Vicom's Internet Gateway's primary function is to allow an entire network simultaneous access to the internet through a single connection, but it comes replete with other features, as well. Internet Gateway also has a built-in DHCP server to handle the local network's TCP/IP configuration automatically, an automated security firewall to prevent outside access, a content filtering system, and other features too numerous to list here. Vicom provides a downloadable demo of Internet Gateway. The 5-user version is $249, 10-user is $430, and unlimited user is $730.

Software overview: Stalker Software's PortShare Pro

Stalker Software makes PortShare Pro, software that allows you to create "virtual" serial ports for communication-based devices like modems and printers. Any Mac on the network can then access the shared device through the virtual port and use it as if they were connected to their own Mac. Stalker Software provides a downloadable demo of PortShare Pro and it costs $79 for a 5-user license, $149 for 10-user, and $499 for a site licence.

Hardware overview: RampNet's WebRamp

RampNet's WebRamp is combination router and four-port Ethernet hub that coordinates multiple modem connections into a high-speed network internet connection. Each modem requires a separate dial-up account and works with anywhere from 14.4 to 56K speeds. WebRamp supports up to 253 network users. There are a number of WebRamp models, with pricing from $499-849.

Hardware overview: Network modems

The most direct way to set up a networked modem is to purchase a modem made for that purpose, a net modem. Net modems can connect directly to a network without the need for a host computer and appear in the Chooser like any networked Mac or printer. With the emergence of technologies like ISDN, ADSL, and cable modems, however, the day of the net modem is pretty much over. As a result, you'll probably have difficulty finding net modems outside of used computer stores.

Any problems to watch out for?

Although sharing an internet connection across a whole network may seem like a really great thing, there are always gotchas to watch out for (isn't life like that?).
  • The total speed of data transfer won't be any faster than the internet connection itself. If you've got a single 33.6 modem as your connection, all of the networked Macs have to share it, so information will move slowly (depending on how many people are using it at once).
  • If something happens to the Mac running the router, the whole network loses its connection. Not good.
  • Since software routers use the processor of the Mac they run on, performance can suffer noticably when the Mac is doing a lot of work.

Final conclusions?

If you want to get a number of network users on the internet, but don't want to spend much money doing it, a software router like those mentioned above is a good way to go about it. Make sure to balance the speed of your internet connection with the number of people who'll be using it, or you'll be browsing at a snail's pace. Both programs offer a try-before-you-buy demo, so you can get an idea of how well they work; make sure to take advantage of it.

Having problems with your setup?

Problem still not solved? Questions linger? If so, please send mail and I'll do my best to help out. I try to answer all mail with 24 hours, although it can take longer if the answer requires some research.

Contents of Three Macs & a Printer are ©1996-1999 Matthew Glidden (except for the bits that aren't).

Questions or feedback? Feel free to send mail.

[This page was last updated on 3/7/99; 1:41:48 PM.]



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