Is dial-up dead yet?

Posted on February 6, 2018

 

Now and again, you hear about something that you assume would have disappeared many years ago. For example, did you know that in this age of Netflix, on-demand television and LCD screens, it’s still possible to get a black and white television licence? It only costs about a third of the price of a colour one as well.

In these days where we can play games online with anyone, anywhere in the world via a device small enough to fit in our pockets, there’s still a market for Postal Scrabble. This is as slow-moving as it sounds – players play their word, then put it in the post to the other player, meaning a single game could last months and cost £10 or more in postage.

Both of these are a bit quirky, but there’s also something admirably quaint about sticking to communication and media from a bygone era. What’s less romantic and more baffling is that there are still millions of people in the world using dial-up internet.

Those born before the 1990s are likely to have memories of using the internet via a dial-up connection. The screeching sound it made when you connected that, though completely tuneless, imbedded itself in your mind over time like an overplayed song on the radio. A simple image could take about 10 minutes to load. Your parents would tell you not to use the internet until off-peak hours (which I think was 6:00pm to 8:00pm). And how many times were you unable to phone your mate because he was on the internet, blocking the phone line?

As recently as 2008, I worked somewhere that used dial-up internet. Everything we did was via phone, post and fax machine, although we occasionally went online to check something. It was pretty old-fashioned, but it worked OK at the time, although I don’t think the company is still going.

In September 2013, BT pulled the plug on dial-up services, saying that the number of people still using them was “tiny”. Ofcom said at the time that numbers of dial-up users in the UK could only be estimated, but were thought to have dropped significantly from the 800,000 recorded in 2010.

In the U.S., dial-up is still alive, if not exactly well. Last year, it was reported that 2.1m people were using AOL dial-up, costing them $20 (around £14 a month). Website Digital Trends even took it for a spin, seeing what it was like using the comparatively primitive service in 2017.

Perhaps there is still a market for dial-up for those who don’t really use the internet but want access to it just in case they need it. When the mobile phone boom started in the late ‘90s, there would be people who said they carried one “just for emergencies”. Maybe internet should be the same – there are people who don’t want or need it every day, but should perhaps have it made available to them as a sort of pay-as-you-go service.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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