What Is a Dial-up Connection?

April 4, 2024

A dial-up connection is a form of Internet access that uses the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to establish a connection to an Internet service provider (ISP) by dialing a telephone number on a conventional telephone line. The user's computer or terminal equipment uses a modem to encode and decode Internet Protocol packets and control information into audible signals that can be transmitted over the telephone line.

How Does a Dial-up Connection Work?

Here is a brief overview of how a dial-up connection works:

  • Initialization. The user's computer initiates the connection by instructing the modem to dial a number that connects to the internet service provider (ISP).
  • Handshaking. When the call is answered, the modem operated by the ISP communicates with the user's modem to agree on communication protocols and the connection speed. This process is known as handshaking.
  • Data transfer. Once the handshaking is complete, data can be transferred between the user's computer and the ISP's server. The data is converted from its digital form into analog signals that can be transmitted over the telephone line. At the receiving end, these analog signals are converted back into digital data.
  • Disconnection. The connection remains open until the user decides to disconnect or if the telephone line is interrupted. Disconnecting can be as simple as hanging up the phone or instructing the computer to end the session.

Dial-up vs. Broadband

Dial-up and broadband differ in technology, speed, reliability, and overall user experience. Here's a detailed comparison of dial-up and broadband.


  • Dial-up: Uses the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to establish an internet connection over a standard telephone line. A modem converts digital data to analog signals and vice versa.
  • Broadband: Utilizes various technologies, including:
    • DSL (Digital Subscriber Line). Transmits data over existing telephone lines but at higher frequencies, allowing internet and telephone services to work simultaneously.
    • Cable. Uses the coaxial cable infrastructure of cable television providers.
    • Fiber-optic. Transmits data as light pulses along glass or plastic fibers, offering the highest speeds.
    • Satellite. Provides internet access via communications satellites, useful in remote areas.


  • Dial-up: It typically offers speeds up to 56 kbps (kilobits per second). However, real-world speeds are often lower due to factors like line quality and interference.
  • Broadband: As a broad category it includes several types of high-speed internet connections such as DSL, cable, fiber-optic, and satellite, offering speeds ranging from 1 Mbps (megabits per second) to 1 Gbps (gigabits per second) or more, significantly faster than dial-up.

Connection and Reliability

  • Dial-up: Requires dialing into the ISP's server each time to establish a connection, which can be time-consuming and unreliable. The connection is also susceptible to interference and can be dropped if the phone line is disturbed.
  • Broadband: Offers an "always on" connection, providing a more reliable and stable internet experience. The risk of interference and dropped connections is significantly lower compared to dial-up.

User Experience

  • Dial-up: Due to its slow speeds, downloading files, streaming videos, or browsing modern websites can be frustrating or impractical. The connection can also tie up the phone line, preventing incoming or outgoing calls.
  • Broadband: Facilitates a much better user experience with fast download and upload speeds, making it suitable for streaming high-definition videos, online gaming, video conferencing, and other bandwidth-intensive activities. It doesn't interfere with telephone service (except in the case of DSL, which still allows simultaneous use).


  • Dial-up: Once the only option available, it's now mostly used in rural or remote areas where broadband technologies are not accessible.
  • Broadband: Widely available in urban and suburban areas, with ongoing efforts to expand coverage to underserved regions.

How To Set Up a Dial-up Connection

Here's a general guide that outlines the process, suitable for most Windows environments:

1. Verify hardware requirements. Ensure you have a modem installed on your computer. Most dial-up connections require an analog modem. Also, make sure you have a working phone line that can be connected to the modem.

2. Obtain dial-up internet service. Sign up for dial-up internet service with an internet service provider. They provide you with the necessary dial-up phone number, your username, and password.

3. Connect the phone line to the modem. Connect one end of a phone line to the modem port on your computer and the other end to your phone jack on the wall.

4. Set up the dial-up connection (Windows example).

  1. Open Control Panel. You can find this by searching in the start menu.
  1. Network and internet. Click "Network and Sharing Center" or "Network and Internet" settings, depending on your version of Windows.
  2. Set up a new connection or network. Choose this option and select "Set up a dial-up connection" when prompted.
  3. Enter ISP Information. Input the phone number provided by your ISP, along with your username and password. You can also name your connection for easy identification.
  4. Connect. After entering your details, click “Connect” to test the connection. If everything is entered correctly, your computer should dial the ISP’s number and establish an internet connection.

5. Adjust settings if necessary.

  • Troubleshoot. If the connection fails, double-check your settings and phone line connection, and make sure your modem is functioning correctly.
  • Configure additional settings. Depending on your needs, you might want to configure your internet options through the Control Panel, such as setting up a firewall or adjusting the dialing properties.

6. Connect to the internet. Once set up, you can connect to the internet by clicking your dial-up connection and selecting "Connect". Your computer will dial the ISP's phone number, log in with your username and password, and establish an internet connection.

7. Disconnecting. To disconnect, click on the network icon in the system tray, select your dial-up connection, and choose "Disconnect".

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dial-up Connection

Dial-up has some advantages and limitations for users.


Here are the advantages of dial-up connections:

  • Availability. Dial-up internet is available almost anywhere there's a telephone line, making it accessible in rural or remote areas where broadband connections might not be available.
  • Affordability. Dial-up services are generally cheaper than broadband connections. This can be an important consideration for users who need internet access but want to minimize their expenses. Since it uses existing telephone lines, there's no need for additional infrastructure or installation costs that might come with setting up broadband.
  • Simplicity. Setting up a dial-up connection is relatively straightforward and can often be done with minimal technical knowledge. Dial-up does not require sophisticated equipment. A working modem and a telephone line are essentially all that's needed, making it a viable option for older computers.
  • Reliable in emergencies. In situations where broadband connections fail or during power outages (assuming one has a battery-powered laptop and a traditional phone line that doesn't rely on external power), dial-up can serve as a reliable backup option for basic internet access.
  • Useful for basic tasks. Dial-up can be sufficient and cost-effective for users who only need internet access for basic tasks like sending emails or simple web browsing.
  • Security. Given its lower speeds and decreasing usage, dial-up connections are less attractive targets for hackers compared to broadband networks. However, this does not inherently make them secure, and precautions should still be taken.
  • Metered usage. Some dial-up plans charge by the hour rather than a flat monthly rate, which can be cost-effective for users who only occasionally need internet access.


On the other hand, dial-up connections have some disadvantages, especially compared to modern broadband connections. These drawbacks include:

  • Slowness. Dial-up connections are significantly slower than broadband connections, with maximum speeds around 56 kbps. This can make browsing modern websites, downloading files, or streaming media time-consuming or practically impossible.
  • Ties up the phone line. Dial-up connections use the existing telephone line, which means the line is occupied while you're connected to the internet. This prevents making or receiving phone calls unless you have a second phone line dedicated to the internet connection.
  • No simultaneous voice and data. Unlike some broadband services (like DSL, which allows for internet and voice calls over the same line at the same time), dial-up does not allow for simultaneous voice and data transmission.
  • Long connection time. Establishing a connection with dial-up internet can take a long time. The process involves dialing the ISP's number and waiting for the connection to be established, which takes significantly longer than the near-instant access provided by broadband connections.
  • Dropped connections. Dial-up connections can be less stable and more prone to being dropped. This can be due to line noise, poor line quality, or interruptions on the phone line.
  • Limited availability of services. Many modern online services and applications require faster internet speeds than dial-up can provide. This includes video streaming, online gaming, video conferencing, and large file downloads, which may be unusable or severely limited on a dial-up connection.
  • Incompatibility with modern websites. As websites become more advanced, they require faster internet speeds to load efficiently. Users on dial-up connections may find that modern websites load very slowly or not at all.

Anastazija is an experienced content writer with knowledge and passion for cloud computing, information technology, and online security. At phoenixNAP, she focuses on answering burning questions about ensuring data robustness and security for all participants in the digital landscape.