Delivering fast Internet on top of phone lines

I took the plunge and installed Sympatico’s High Speed Edition Internet access. It promises always-on Internet and a transmission speed of 1Mbps. The service is provided “on top” of a normal residential telephone line, with no impact on phone service.

Nortel has figured out a way to fit fast data traffic on top of a normal telephone line. The line can’t be too long and all the equipment must come from Nortel, but it promises to be 20 times faster than a 56Kbps modem and doesn’t tie up the phone line.

The services is currently available in “some areas of Toronto, Montreal, Hull, Ottawa and Quebec City”. It will only be provided on a residential telephone line. And the distance to the local Bell Central Office cannot be more than 4.5 kilometres.

The price is $40 per month. In the future, there may be an additional $15 per month charge for the modem. This price is directly competitive with the @home service provided by Rogers and other cable companies. It is low enough to have generated considerable opposition from other ISPs.

The service is attractive. Nortel’s goal is to provide a download speed of 100,000 bytes/sec. At that speed, the 20MB copy of Internet Explorer 5.0 should arrive in less than four minutes. It actually took seven minutes when I tried – not bad!

The time to fetch a new page on the Web improves, but not that dramatically. “Connections” take time on the Internet. With a 56Kbps modem, my average time to ping was more than 0.2 sec; at 1Mbps it drops to less than 0.1 sec.

When everything is finally set up, you enjoy a significantly better Internet experience. Getting everything set up, however, is not yet that simple. There are two desktop installation options. Do-it-yourself costs $50; having them do it costs $150.

I opted for do-it-yourself. I had to install an Ethernet card in my PC. That was simple enough. I also had to put a filter on the line in front of every telephone. The standard kit did not come with enough filters. I was forced into minor rewiring.

The kit comes with four gray patch cords. Three of them are for use on a six wire phone line. One is an RJ-45 cable to be used between modem and Ethernet card. My first try, I got it wrong. I was used to a four wire phone patch cords.

My big problem was the Automatic Proxy Configuration URL. According to the documentation, the only way to get on the Web is to use the Automatic Proxy Configuration link. But some of my Web applications don’t know how to use an APC connection.

There is a regular Proxy alternative — at But that will only be revealed when you (eventually) make it to a second-level technical support person. With knowledge of that Proxy server, I was able to get all of my web applications to work.

The “out of box” experience is not yet for the faint of heart. I expect that it will improve, but, today, High Speed Edition Internet access needs patient and knowledgeable users. I hope to be able to recommend it, without reservations, in a few months.

Fabian is a Toronto-based management and systems consultant. He can be found at