Saturday, October 26, 2019

Lost Technology

My niece and I were talking the other day I happened to mention that we used to use an acoustic coupler to connect a laptop to the Internet.

She had no idea what the heck I was talking about. My lovely wife and I started traveling during the winters about 20 years ago. We had to do a certain amount of business remotely. It’s hard to believe right now, but cell phones weren’t all that common.

Back then I used to carry a bunch of prepaid calling cards to make long distance calls. I’d do my banking over pay phones. Getting e-mail was an issue. That was back in the day of phone modems. Some places had phone jacks customers could plug into to connect to the Internet at dial up speeds.

A number of places only had pay phones. There was no way to connect directly to a phone line. For that I used an acoustic coupler. It looked sorta like a old school phone handset. It would attach to the phone with a velcro strap. Since it worked by actually making tones, it was even slower than regular phone modems. Often it would take 15 or 20 minutes to download my e-mail.

The best thing that could be said about them is that they worked . . . sorta. Old beat up pay phones didn’t have the best audio quality and that degraded speeds even more. Most of the time we made it work. Sometimes we’d connect late at night when it was quieter out as even outside noise could mess up the signal. Since we were tying up one of a handful of payphones, it was best to do it when most people were sleeping.

Why did we even bother? As clunky as the system was, it worked just enough to make doing our business possible. That allowed us to travel and have adventures so it was worth the hassle.



  1. lol - I'd never heard of them either, but I got my first computer only 14 years ago.

    1. For a very short time they were just the thing for the mobile computer guy. I still think I have mine around the house somewhere.

  2. I started using those in 1976 at Holmes Hall, MSU. They had a room with about five Teletype model 33s, you would use 110 baud acoustic modem to call the mainframe about a mile across campus. 110 baud is about ten characters per second. I think I still have some rolls of paper output from that with StarTrek text games on it.

    Later on moved up to 300 baud modems, 1200 baud modems (probably not acoustic, but hardwired to the phone line). I don't think we ever had acoustic modems faster than 1200, too hard to maintain a quality connection going thru speakers, microphones; plus the external noise issue you mention.

    The acoustic ones were more popular back then due to the telecom laws (= Bell regulations). Anything that plugged into their network required extra certification, and probably one of their technicians to make the connection.


    1. That's pretty interesting. I played the StarTrek game on a university system. We had printers cranking out the text. My friends and I crashed the system so hard they called it Black Tuesday for a while. Opps. I wasn't even a student there. When students would leave their passwords stayed active for a while. That's how I got in.

      About the best performance I ever got out of the acoustic coupler was 300 baud.

      Bell had a strangle hold on things back then. Kids have no idea.