What Is Dial-Up Internet and How Does It Work?

In our digital age, an Internet connection is almost a necessity. But what kind of Internet connection should you be using? In this article, we'll cover the oldest type of Internet connection: dial-up Internet. We'll explain what it is and how it uses preexisting phone lines to create secure, stable connections between the user and the Internet - and we'll also cover the benefits and downsides of using this classic type of Internet connection.

What is dial-up Internet?

Dial-up Internet is an Internet connection that uses telephone wires to connect a device to the Internet. Popularized in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it is generally established with as few materials as possible. This means that while it's not the most advanced, it's much more widespread in the U.S. than any other type of Internet connection. Every phone line has a signal that it sends out to the wires and devices around it. Dial-up Internet takes over these signals to send data instead of voices for phone calls.

A dial-up Internet modem

How does dial-up Internet work?

Dial-up Internet uses a phone line to connect your computer or other device to your Internet service provider's connection via your modem. In short, here's how the dial-up process works:

  1. Every dial-up user receives a dial-up Internet access number - like a telephone number - from their Internet service provider. The user calls their ISP's phone number using their computer and modem.
  2. The ISP's modem then answers the call and connects to the user's modem.
  3. Both modems establish a connection together, establishing speed and protocol, and then the user's modem sends a connection request to the ISP's server.
  4. The ISP verifies the user's account and gives them access to the Internet.
  5. The user can go online and browse webpages on the Internet thanks to data transfers that occur via their computer and the ISP's server.

Again, since dial-up relies on a phone line for connection, users can't use their phone and their computer at the same time. For many, this is a big inconvenience, which is why dial-up Internet - with its iconic dial-up Internet sound - has largely gone by the wayside as other, more flexible Internet options take its place.

Setting up dial-up Internet

To set up a dial-up Internet connection, you must first contact an Internet provider. You must then connect a phone cord from a telephone jack outlet to your computer or device.

Once you've established that physical connection, navigate to the network settings on your device and select the option to connect to a new network. You will have to manually connect to the network. To do this, type in a username and password that the Internet provider gives you. This ensures your Internet connection will be secure.

If you don’t have a computer to do this with, you will need access to a dial-up modem. You might need additional equipment, which should be provided by your Internet service provider or available for purchase through dial-up services.

Once your connection is established, you can use the Internet by dialing into your ISP.

Advantages and disadvantages of dial-up

Every type of Internet has its downsides; no method is perfect. However, for some people, dial-up is the best and easiest option. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of using dial-up Internet before you decide to contact a provider.


Though dial-up isn't the most popular kind of Internet connection, there are still a few advantages to choosing it over alternative Internet connections.

  • Availability. Dial-up is arguably the most accessible type of Internet, given that users can access it from anywhere that phone lines exist. It's a great option for people who live in rural or remote areas that don't have access to other kinds of Internet.
  • Cost. Again, because most of the equipment necessary for dial-up - phone lines - already exists, dial-up tends to be cheaper.
  • Security. Using the dedicated phone lines of dial-up means hackers can't intercept the signal as easily as they could a wireless signal.
  • Saves energy. Compared to other kinds of Internet, dial-up uses little power. For those concerned with their energy use, this may be a good option.


Despite its cost, availability, and security, there are reasons why dial-up isn't a commonly-used method in modern times. If you live in a populated area and have access to other types of Internet connections, consider these disadvantages when making your choice:

  • Slow speed. Simply put, dial-up Internet is slow; it's the slowest type of Internet connection available. For websites and online services that need quick speeds, dial-up isn't the answer.
  • Limited functionality. Because dial-up is so slow, it can't always perform as users need. Streaming videos or gaming online may be impossible with this type of connection.
  • Conflicts with phone line. Because dial-up Internet relies on a phone line to connect, you can't use your phone at the same time you use your Internet.
  • Outdated technology. Ultimately, many websites and online services just don't support dial-up technology anymore. Though it's not obsolete, many other types of Internet connections have surpassed it in terms of speed, usefulness, and relativity.

Alternative Internet connections

There are many other types of Internet connection that are more modern than dial-up connections. DSL (digital subscriber line), fiber optic, and cable are the most common types of Internet connection today. Within the United States, they are the most accessible and affordable while still providing high-speed Internet.

A dial-up Internet modem

Fixed wireless is another type of connection that is less common, but it's a good option if your neighborhood does not have strong DSL or cable coverage. It is another connection that is useful in rural areas without many other Internet access options to choose from.

Satellite is easily the most available Internet connection option. With a satellite connection like Hughesnet, satellites beam an Internet signal down from space. However, it is also the most expensive option, and it provides slower speeds and less data than the other options.

Look into the Internet service providers in your area to see what your options are for Internet. Everyone's Internet needs differ depending on what they do online.

How fast is dial-up Internet?

Dial-up Internet speeds only reach a maximum of 56 Kbps (kilobytes per second). This is much slower than more modern types of connection like DSL and cable, and it is even slower than satellite connection. Broadband Internet is defined as any connection that offers speeds of 25 Mbps or faster, which is often faster than dial-up speeds.

Although the speed is lacking, dial-up Internet provides other benefits. As mentioned before, it is extremely available, since all that is required is a standard telephone line to connect. People without access to DSL or cable often do have access to dial-up. It also gives you a different IP address every time you access the network, making it impossible for hackers to use your device for suspicious activities. However, the speed is an issue that many can't get over, especially given the need in our current world for real-time digital connections.

Frequently asked questions

Can I use dial-up Internet without a phone line?

Unfortunately, no. A phone line is the only required component of connection to a dial-up Internet service. While using the Internet, you won’t even be able to talk on the phone; the signal from the regular telephone is being used for sending and receiving data, not voice calls.

When did dial-up Internet start?

Dial-up Internet was first created in 1992, which has made it one of the most established methods of Internet connectivity today, albeit not one of the most advanced.

Does dial-up Internet still exist?

Yes, it does still exist. In fact, it is one of the most accessible methods of Internet connection in America. It is especially useful in rural areas where other methods of Internet connection may not be available. This also makes it relatively easy for people to afford, regardless of their economic status.