If, like me, your home or small business Internet is delivered via your telephone line, it's most likely using a flavour of communications technology called ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line). To make that connection, you'll probably be using a combined ADSL router/modem – a clever device that combines an Internet modem (the bit that make the connection to your local telephone exchange) and a router that distributes your data around the home using wired and Wi-Fi network connections.
Because the technology that drives combined ADSL router/modems is a bit more complicated, you'll often find that standalone routers are updated more quickly by manufacturers and there's a lag in the release of ADSL router/modems with the latest features. For example, in the case of the latest and greatest flavour of Wi-Fi – 802.11ac, look around and there's a plethora of routers available in the market from a wide choice of manufacturers, but 802.11ac router modems are more scarce.
So, being the reader I know you are, you're going to be frustrated that you can't take advantage of the latest networking features at home. Well, you can, but you're going to need to move away from combined ADSL modem/routers and start using separate ADSL modem and router devices. With the right ADSL modem in place, you can use any router you wish – hurrah!
OK, the last time you thought about modems, you were probably still watching Moonlighting on TV every week. You'd be surprised to hear that they are still available on the market today (if you dig around) but for our particular challenge, we need a modem with a particular feature, and not all modems fit the bill. Let me explain.
Here in the UK, and in places like New Zealand and Australia, your ADSL Internet connection works with a networking protocol called PPPoA (Point-to-Point Protocol over ATM). Here’s the Wikipedia link if you wish to dig into the tech. Now, your common garden standalone router – the like used with Cable Internet rather than ADSL, uses a different protocol called PPPoE (Point-to-point protocol over Ethernet). We need to get our modem and router to talk, and one speaks French and the other Swedish. Hmm…
So, the feature we're looking for in our choice of ADSL modem is PPPoE to PPPoA bridge. And the modem I'm going to recommend to you is the Draytek Vigor 120 ADSL Ethernet Modem.
Don't bother shopping around – just buy this one. It's pre-configured out of the box to connect to your telephone exchange and provides the necessary bridging to work with any standalone router that utilises the PPPoE protocol (pretty much all of them).
The secret is this setting on the modem, which should be checked by default (although it's shown unchecked here):
As long at that box is checked, translating French to Swedish (or rather PPPoA to PPPoE) is a cinch. So, open up the box, plug the modem into your power source and connect the phone line. Give it a few seconds, and you should see the DSL light turn green when the modem makes a successful connection with your exchange. No configuration should be needed on the modem itself - certainly for the UK models.
Next, hook up your new, fancy standalone router, connecting the router to the modem's Ethernet port. Power on the router, and during setup, make sure the Internet Connection type is set to PPPoE. Enter your ISP username and password, and if you have an optional Service Name setting, leave it blank. (That latter bit is important).
Complete the setup, and if you don't get an immediate connection, reboot both the modem, and the router and you should be playing with those new router features in no time at all.
From here, you're free to try out any router of your choosing in the future, ensuring you can take advantage of the latest and greatest networking features as soon as they hit the market.