Last week we discussed the different broadband services available in Japan and how to subscribe to each. This week we’ll take a look at the steps necessary to configure your system to connect to the Internet using your new broadband service, and also consider some of the options available to users with home or office LANs for sharing that connection.

System requirements

Generally speaking, the minimum requirements for broadband Internet are a computer with a network or USB port, a DSL or cable modem, and a network cable.
With DSL you may also require a line splitter to route the telephone and data traffic to the proper devices.

First, let’s consider the hardware requirements in more detail. PCs running Windows should have Windows 95 or later installed, but ME/2000 or XP are recommended for performance and compatibility reasons.

With regard to system specifications, a Pentium II 266 MHz CPU and 64 Mbytes RAM should be considered the bare minimum for acceptable performance.

Having a faster CPU and more memory will make a big difference when enjoying streaming audio and video or other processor-intensive activities, without necessarily improving your data transfer rates.

Macintosh systems should have MacOS 9.0 or later installed (MacOS X preferred), and G3s or newer offer the convenience of integrated network support.

As with PCs, the newer the better is a good rule for realizing improved performance and compatibility.

Whichever your platform, you’ll require either a network port (for Windows and Mac) or a Universal Serial Bus port (Windows only).

Many systems today include an onboard Ethernet port, which is an RJ-45 jack that resembles an oversize telephone (RJ-11) jack. This is the same connector used, for example, to connect your office PC to the office LAN.

You should inspect your system to see if you have an Ethernet port, and if you don’t find one you’ll need to either purchase an add-on network card or choose a USB modem instead.

In some cases, USB modems provide simplified installation and configuration, but are typically limited to 1.5-Mbps DSL service only.

One other option for those not comfortable installing network cards is a USB network adapter such as IO Data’s USB-ET/TX-S (LAN-Egg Slim for Fast Ethernet) which, unusual moniker notwithstanding, provides a simple plug-and-play solution for Windows systems that support USB but have no network interface.

Finally, you should also consider the multimedia capabilities of your broadband workstation.

Rich media content is increasingly available via the Web today, and with radio stations around the world offering streaming music and news programming, you will likely benefit from having a sound card and speakers.

Networking equipment

If you choose a USB modem there are no requirements for intermediate network hardware. You will be able to connect a single computer to the modem using a standard USB connection.
However, if you plan to use your computer’s network interface to connect to the Internet, you’ll need to purchase a router-type DSL modem. And if you want to share the connection with other systems you may require other equipment as well.

But first let’s introduce the basic networking components that may exist between your computer and the Internet.

* A modem (modulator-demodulator) converts the data traveling between your computer and the Internet into a format suitable for transmission over your broadband media (cable, fiber or copper telephone line). A modem has two interfaces: one for the external broadband connection and another for the internal connection (a computer or broadband router).

* A router directs traffic among different devices and networks based on information contained in routing tables. The router decides, for example, to send your browser’s request for a Web page out over the DSL line and not to the computer in the other room. Broadband routers typically have two ports: one for the Internet (or Wide Area Network) side and one for the internal (or Local Area Network) side.

* Hubs are devices that simply connect networked devices together on a single network segment. Hubs allow you to create a LAN of computers by providing a common communications path for all connected devices.

You’ll often find two or three of these components in a single off-the-shelf product.

Some “broadband routers” include all three components in a single unit, and in some cases also include wireless networking capability.

In most cases, and unless you request otherwise, your DSL or cable provider will provide you with a modem and connect it to the cable or DSL line, as applicable. You will normally be required to connect and configure everything between the modem and your computer(s).

If you are only connecting a single computer you can connect it directly to the Ethernet (LAN) port of the modem using a standard, straight-type Category 5, twisted-pair network cable. If you are connecting more than one computer, you will also need to buy a hub and a router, or a router with an integrated hub.

In the Single Computer configuration, the computer is connected directly to the DSL (or cable) modem via either USB or Ethernet network cable. In the Home or Office LAN configuration, the WAN port of a router is connected to the modem, and the LAN port to a hub.

All of the client machines communicate with the router via the hub, and all Internet traffic between the machines and the modem is handled by the router.

Note that in the Home or Office LAN diagram the hub and router are shown separately, but can just as easily be integrated in a single network device.

Products such as the Buffalo WLAR-L11G-L 4-port router have a single WAN interface for connecting to the modem, and four LAN interfaces that can be used to connect internal PCs or other network devices. This particular unit also includes a wireless access point for connecting devices in a wireless network. This allows you to enjoy mobile, cable-free networking anywhere in your home at speeds of up to 11 Mbps. This is a particularly convenient solution in cases where connecting computers with Ethernet cable is impractical.

Configuring networking

So far, we’ve discussed the physical side of broadband connections and the network devices that make data transmission possible.
The protocols used to send and receive data over them are the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), otherwise known as TCP/IP.

TCP/IP forms the basis of all Internet communications and is built into every modern operating system. One part of preparing your systems to use broadband will involve configuring TCP/IP.

Most DSL service providers today use a protocol called PPPoE (Point-to-Point over Ethernet) that encapsulates data for transmission over the network.

This requires the installation of a PPPoE “stack” on your computer, or the use of a broadband router that supports PPPoE.

In the former case, your provider will supply you with the necessary drivers and a configuration utility when you sign up.

You will also receive log-in information that you will use to configure your computer or broadband router to log on to the Internet service provider.

Then you either initiate a connection to your provider using dialup networking or a utility provided by your provider (in the case of a single computer), or you connect to your provider using your broadband router and then the systems behind it use the router as a gateway to the Internet.

If you’re only connecting a single system to the Internet, your IP addresses will be assigned by your provider, and may change each time you connect.

For networks without a dedicated server, you can save time and headaches by selecting a broadband router that includes a DHCP server. Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol automatically assigns IP addresses and other settings to client computers.

A DHCP server automatically configures networking for multiple client machines by assigning them an IP address, default gateway, and DNS server IP addresses.

What this means in practice is that you boot up your computer and everything just works.

The IP address configuration screens are slightly different for the various Microsoft and Mac operating systems, but selecting “Obtain an IP Address Automatically” or “Use DHCP Server” for your TCP/IP settings will automatically configure your computer if a DHCP server (e.g. a broadband router with a DHCP server) is locally available.

About cables

You should also ensure that your cables are of the correct type and connected properly.
The easiest way to confirm this is to verify that the link indicator for the LAN connection is lit on your modem or router. If the cable is plugged in and your computer is running but the link indicator is not illuminated, you should ensure that the cable is of the correct type (straight or cross, as applicable), inserted properly, and not otherwise frayed or damaged.

Additionally, DSL is susceptible to interference from nearby electronic devices. Excessive noise can lead to poor connection performance and terminated connections.

The following guidelines should be used when setting up your DSL and network hardware:

* Keep cables as short as possible. Coiled, overlong cables are the leading cause of induced noise.

* Keep cables away from speakers, televisions, microwaves, and other appliances that emit electromagnetic energy.

* Don’t run DSL cables alongside computer and network cables.

Help when you need it

As daunting as some of this may seem, the good news is that most clerks in the major computer and electronics stores have a good grasp of the different hardware available and how it fits together.
Explaining your particular broadband situation and requirements will likely reward you with a polite and thorough tour of your options, ending with vendor and product recommendations you can trust. It behooves you to take advantage of their knowledge and experience.

Next week, we’ll turn our attention to Internet security and protecting your systems, and also discuss some important issues regarding broadband for business use.

The Japan Times: April 18, 2002