Swapping DSL modems, AT&T gets into the act

My editor is being very understanding because this column is late, late, late. Why? Well, if you recall, last week I was wrestling my 2Wire 2701HG-B DSL Gateway trying to persuade it to recognize a really cool NAS device, the QNAP TS-1079 Pro, so I could enable port forwarding to expose the QNAP to the world.

Photo of a 2Wire 2701HG-B DSL Gateway

Click to see: Photo of a 2Wire 2701HG-B DSL Gateway

Alas, there was no way to get the 2Wire to do this because, for reasons that are still unclear, unless the QNAP was getting its IP address from the 2Wire's DHCP service, it was effectively invisible to the 2Wire.

Moreover, the 2Wire lacks an address reservation facility and you can't set up port forwarding just using an IP address as the destination; the 2Wire only allows you to pick internal destination devices from a list it compiles using the gods-know-what mechanisms.

Why the QNAP, which is running all sorts of services, including CIFS, AFP, NFS, FTP, NTP, etc., as well as using the 2Wire as its primary DNS, wasn't "seen" while other servers (also using static IP addresses) were detected is still and will remain a mystery (unless one of you comes up with a good explanation).

Photo of the D-Link DSL-520B ADSL2+ DSL Gateway

Click to see: Photo of the D-Link DSL-520B ADSL2+ DSL Gateway

Nope, in the end I decided that the 2Wire 2701HG-B DSL Gateway needed to be terminated (I almost went with "terminated with extreme prejudice" but I refrained … you never know when an old device is going to save your ***).

I decided to try another DSL modem I had lying around: A D-Link DSL-520B ADSL2+ which, unlike the 2Wire, doesn't have built-in WiFi but, as I have plenty of WiFi access points hanging around, this isn't a problem.

I'd like to point out that the D-Link modem also comes in a more sensible physical design than the 2Wire or, for that matter, many other devices: Instead of being shaped like something out of the Jetsons with futuristic curves that make it difficult to stack (the 2Wire's little bracket for standing it vertically was created by someone who thought a utility device could stand out in the market by looking "different" … pah! But I digress), the D-Link gateway is a simple, boring, stackable, rectilinear box. Hooray!

The D-Link modem is pretty easy to set up and, compared to the 2Wire, it's user interface is an utter speed freak. I went through the configuration process, got the DSL up and running and, just when I thought I was done, AT&T had to get into the act. I got the grave warning: "AT&T has found a problem with your Internet connection".

I now had no Internet access other than to AT&T's server, which is why this column is late. The following saga ate up the rest of my day.

As I couldn't do anything online I had no choice, I had to go with the program. The warning went on: "We need to update your connection [which seems an odd way to put it but, whatever … ] … We found a mismatch between your current Primary Member network password and the password used to connect to the Internet." What?! Given that the previous modem had worked just fine this seemed ridiculous. "Don't worry," continued the page in a friendly tone that I didn't believe for a second, "we'll guide you through each step. Click Continue to begin."

Thus began a tedious and annoyingly slow process that wound up doing nothing more than giving me a new password. AT&T tried to work some kind of magic to identify my DSL modem and downloaded what appeared to be Flash apps that took forever to do nothing useful. When we finally got to determine what kind of DSL modem I was using (I had to choose from a list), AT&T then supplied incorrect and incomplete instructions on how to reconfigure my modem.

What on earth do non-technical consumers do in a situation like this? Do they just wind up calling tech support and wasting hours talking to someone in Mumbai inexorably working their way through a script?

Anyway, I restarted my PC and, you may not be surprised by this, AT&T put up the same warning all over again. I had to restart the DSL modem twice to get rid of the warning and avoid what appears to be just an over-engineered password reset process that is thoroughly and unforgivably ridiculously ineffective.

What I don't get is why AT&T is so fussy about passwords for DSL access. The connection is point-to-point and they know which line located at what address connects to which DSLAM port so why the apparent paranoia over access passwords? Is this just an engineering driven architecture that serves to maintain legacy systems that really should be redesigned? Anyone?

(Actually, an old friend works for AT&T on the DSL side so I'll try and track him down and see if he can shed any light on this saga … I will let you know what he says.)

Weirdly, after this benighted process, my Mac seemed to get its DNS cache "stuck" so, while I could access Gmail and iGoogle, Google was unreachable until the condition mysteriously cleared itself up after a few hours (I gave up and went and had an early glass of wine … it was either that or put my fist through something digital).

So, around 8 or 9 o'clock at night AT&T finally stopped interfering with me and the Internet was visible and now, with the D-Link gateway, overall Internet throughput seems faster.

Moreover, with the D-Link DSL-520B ADSL2+ DSL Gateway (on which I bestow a rating of 5 out of 5) I can reserve IP addresses and forward ports to IP addresses and can now get on with what I started to do last week, which we'll look at next week.

Really, do you ever marvel at how anything gets done with computers?

Gibbs is full of wonder in Ventura, Calif. Your surprises to gearhead@gibbs.com.

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