Actiontec Call Waiting Modem

by Charles H. Gajeway

56K USB Call Waiting Modem
Rating 87

When working away from the office, it becomes more and more difficult to juggle voice and data phone lines. Unless there is a dedicated high-speed connection in place, the options are limited. Call-waiting is a great solution for handling multiple voice calls, but it’s less than ideal for dial-up Internet access. You can turn off call-waiting, but until logged off, anyone trying to get through will get a frustrating and unprofessional busy signal.

Actiontec’s Call Waiting modems avoid these problems by temporarily suspending data transmission while incoming voice calls are answered. Users even get a choice: Either hang up the voice call and re-establish the Internet connection, or continue the voice call and terminate the data session. We gave the USB version a workout to see how it would perform.

The Actiontec unit is small and light enough to tuck unobtrusively into a laptop case. Installing the modem on our workhorse Dell Latitude CPt was as simple as inserting the installation CD, plugging in the telephone and USB cables, then following the prompts.

For compatibility with most applications, the Actiontec USB Call Waiting Modem assigns itself a COM port to use. This means that even old BBS dialing programs will work, users can still send and receive faxes, although the USB Call-Waiting modem doesn’t allow users to receive faxes while they’re surfing the Web. Answering machines can’t pick up missed calls but it does permit voice mail to pick up the missed calls. Users can always dial out to the net.

Our suburban phone lines are noisy, but the Actiontec performed well, establishing fast connections where other modems — particularly USB models — topped out at 28.8Kbps or less. Over several long sessions, download speeds were consistent, and we encountered no problems of any kind.

Then we hooked up to a call-waiting line and made a series of calls, putting our data connection on hold for longer and longer each time. Though the manual specifies a voice window of just seven seconds, our phone line and ISP consistently allowed us to talk for 30 seconds without losing our Internet connection. This was more than enough time to take a message or to set up a call-back.

The USB version of the Call-Waiting series doesn’t offer the voice capabilities featured on the external and internal PC models, but the USB modem is Macintosh compatible. The only real problem we encountered during our tests was with the unit’s aging BitWare fax software that required a workaround to handle 10-digit local numbers.

Having a separate phone line for voice and PC is not always possible, especially for mobile workers. The Actiontec Call-Waiting modem offers a simple and relatively inexpensive solution to the problem, and the USB model is a terrific choice for notebook computers. Desktop users may opt for the external or internal models for the voice messaging features to get even more functionality from one phone line. If you use a computer and have call-waiting, this modem will definitely make your life easier.

Actiontec Electronics, Inc.

PROS: Good speed; portable; compact; excellent call-waiting performance

CONS: No voice features on USB mode

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.
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