The tricky fax modem on the 386 machine

Mauritius was still in its slumber days, with a blurred view of the advancements of the personal computer world, when it was hit by a sudden technological revolution.
And I am proud to say that I was part and parcel of that revolution, though, in the end, I did not turn out to be the Bill Gates of the tiny Indian Ocean Island.
It was a perfect start for any tech company, even the one that I started on my own, with the help of the family’s business.
We were on a run, being one of the very first recipients of the government’s IT pioneer program, and the right connections to boost the business.
But one of the most formidable days of that era in my life was the arrival of the first fax modem from Singapore.
It was a 14.4Kpbs modem, using the PCI slot on the computer’s motherboard to connect to the normal telephone lines, to receive and send faxes.
There were not many experts in the field in the country, and I was not one, but I never gave up trying to get it to work on a customer’s computer.
It was a 386 machine, not top of the range, but powerful enough to boot at a good speed and it held its ground when we inserted the modem in the mainboard.
But it was the tweaking that was tedious, and took us a few hours, before we could get it going.
The Hayes 80-103A, a 300-baud Bell 103A-compatible modem happened to be the first modem created for a personal computer.
Dale Heatherington and Dennis C. Hayes designed it for S-100 bus computers of the day, such as the Altair 8800 and the IMSAI 8080.
The modem I sold to the client was also a Hayes modem, bought for cheap in the then Singapore’s bustling computer marketplace.
Now I know that it took 14 years, from 1980 until 1994, for the speed of the modem to develop from 14.4Kpbs to 28.9Kbps, and that was incredible speed indeed for a PC-based modem. It was only two years later, in 1996, that Brent Townshend came up with the technology for the 56k modem. But by that time, I was not in Mauritius and I was not selling internal fax modems to my Malaysian clients.
Some of them did order external modems from me and that was good business.
The rise of the modem was completed with it using a series of ASCII strings that was sent to the modem through its RS-232 serial port.
Using the PC interface, users could autodial, answer, hang up using the mouse attached to the PC.
I still remember the feeling of victory by the team after we successfully sent a fax from the client’s computer to one of his associates who received the perfectly printed message on a piece of paper from a standalone fax machine.
It was Eureka, once again, but it was achieved in Port-Louis, Mauritius, as end users.

Picture is from encyclopedia


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