The shortest dial-up connection ever

"Diiii,diii,diiiiii,chhhhhhh,chhh,shhh ...." - remember those sounds? Those were the sounds of dial up modems when you connected to the internet. Thankfully those times are long gone now. There is no "going online" after 18:00 anymore (because it was cheaper), you're simply connected all the time. In a weird turn of events, instead of connecting to the internet via analog phone lines we're now connecting analog phone lines through the internet, but I digress ....

At work we have a machine that prints out stuff and fetches billing and other information from a central server owned by the manufacturers of that machine. The device looks like it was designed in the 90s, and it probably was. Since it's so durable there's no need to replace it and it will probably still work fine 20 years from now. But there's one problem with the design: how it connects to the billing server. In the 90s you couldn't expect every client to have an internet connection, they might not even have a corporate network. And even if your client had one, it could be thick Ethernet, thin Ethernet, Token ring .... or just a few individual modems. But there was one thing every organization had: phone lines. So the manufacturer of that machine made it very convenient - it has an internal modem and you just plug it straight into an analog phone line. Done. The machine doesn't connect to the internet at all, it dials the manufacturers office directly and fetches information from there.

But this system is starting to fall apart. Modern VoIP solutions don't play so nice with dial-up data, even Fax calls cause major headaches to set up. As we were transitioning to a VoIP system I was very worried about what to do with that machine. Thankfully, the manufacturer was faster in providing a solution than us in switching to VoIP. They probably wanted to get rid of all their modems needed to support customer machines, expensive phone lines and maybe modernize their phone system as well, and finally come up with something that connects to the internet. But all those expensive machines at clients locations only connect through a modem! How to get around that? There are three options:

a) Replace all the machines?
b) Send out technicians to open the machines, remove the modem modules and replace them with Ethernet modules?
c) Send a device to every customer which plugs into the local network on one end and simulates a phone line which their printing and billing machine could dial into?

Guess what option they went for. Of course c). So whenever billing information needs to be updated this little 1 meter long "phone network" comes into action. The machine picks up, gets a simulated dialtone and "dials" into the manufacturers modem - which is now some emulator device sitting next to it, forwarding everything through the internet.

Presto - old and new technology successful matched together. I honestly can't say if this design brilliant or ridiculous. Either way - it works.

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