My Turn

Bad Vibes from USR - 2002.03.27

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

It seemed simple enough two weeks ago. I was contacted by an iMac owner who was referred to me by the local ISP to help hook up an ISDN modem to a Rev B iMac. The customer (who I will refer to as Joe) could not get his 3Com/US Robotics ISDN modem to work on his computer; he had tried time and time again installing the software with no luck getting the modem to work.

As a Mac consultant, I assumed he missing a key step, so I went to his house to get him up and running. Joe and his wife were very happy to see me and had hopes of getting online at high speed. I tackled the problem in usual fashion: I opened the manual, which was no more than a quad fold 14 x 24 poster, and followed the steps.

The first thing I looked for was the requirements: OS 8.5 (iMacs need firmware update 1.1 or better) and an available USB port. Well, we had OS 8.6, firmware update 1.2, and an available USB port with 64+ megs of RAM available. After following the instructions, which said installer would install appropriate drivers, and installing the software, the iMac would not recognize the modem.

I had to resort to instinct at that point, because the poster didn't not elaborate on setting up the modem beyond instructions on how to plug in and running the setup software.

I checked the Modem control panel, and USB modem was not available. I checked TCP/IP - no luck there either. As I scratched my head, I came to the conclusion that we must be missing a modem script, so I scoured the CD contents and found one that was not mentioned anywhere and was not installed. Once installed, it was of no help. I searched the 3Com and USR website with no luck, so I did what consultants hate to do - that was to call the tech support number.

This is where it got bad.

I called 3Com, who immediately said that they do not support that item and referred me to USR. Once I got a USR tech online and explained the problem, he said that the iMac was missing some software (well duh!). I told him that, yes, of course something was missing. Could he elaborate?

Of course not. He said that the item was plug and play and required no drivers to be installed and tried to explain to me how the OS works. (Gee, thanks for the lesson, as if I didn't know.) I explained to him that the setup software doesn't see the modem and that USB does not show up in the Modem control panel. He quite rudely said that it was an Apple issue, and he could not help me any further. Oh, I forgot to mention that when I gave him Joe's phone number, he said, "Oh, this guy has called us before, and we informed him that it was Apple's problem."

I ended the call with, "Thanks for nothing, and I will call you when I find what the problem is." Since Joe had already called Apple and was informed that this was not an Apple issue but a manufacturer issue, I saw no need to waste time calling Apple. I left the job to do my own research and return when I get more info.

I spent several hours searching 3Com/USR/Apple/Forums and reviews with no information in regards to our problem, so I resorted to writing a letter to USR tech support. Here is the letter with their response:

-----Original Message-----

From: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Sent: 12/03/02
Subject: USR Tech Support
Date Submitted: 3/13/2002 1:03:07 AM
Name: J. Dugan
Email: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Zip Code:
Model Number: 3CP3468A
OS: Macintosh
OS Version: 8.5x

Description of Issue: Hello, I hope that you can help with this problem. I am a Macintosh consultant and I am writing in regards to a problem one of my customers is having with the ISDN Pro TA and his iMac.

The iMac 233 96 megs of RAM running OS 8.5 with internal 56k modem does not recognize the Pro TA on the USB port; the owners manual that came with the TA was followed step by step to no avail. I have spoken to people at 3Com, and they referred the problem to you (US Robotics). When I spoke to a USR technician about this problem, he immediately blamed the problem on the Mac OS, but he was not able to tell me exactly what was missing (that leaves too many holes to be plugged) and was borderline rude when I tried to get more specific answers, he said QUOTE "The TA is supposed to be plug and play and does not need a driver, something is missing in the OS." When Apple was contacted about this problem they referred back to you folks.

So here we are with no answers to the problem. I must say that I was none too impressed by the tech that I talked to. If you can't identify the problem, DON'T HAND IT OFF. If you make a product for a specific OS, know that OS and have specific solutions. My customer bought your product and needs YOUR help, I am under the impression that the ISDN PRO TA was not a good venture with 3Com by the customer reviews I have read, but that does not clear either company of any responsibility to the product in question. If the problem is with the Mac OS could you please give me some guidance as to what may be missing so we can download the appropriate cdev/init/script or patch. Problem described in detail below.

Installed ISDN PRO TA on USB ports 1 and then 2, installed software several times, installed the ISDN PRO TA script in modem scripts folder in preferences folder. Connection manager could not locate the Pro TA connected to the computer. Apple Profiler does see the TA on USB. iMac has firmware V1.2 installed. I have selected the TA script in modem control panel but USB port does not show in "Connect via" window.

I have thrown my hands up on this one and NEED YOUR HELP! My customer and I have made phone calls and have sent emails; this is our last attempt to get the TA working before my customer returns the TA for a different brand never to buy a USR or 3Com product again. This is NOT a threat but your chance to prove that you can support your product.

Thank you in advance for your help.


Re: Email ID xxxxxxx

Dear :

Thank you for choosing U.S.Robotics.

All that is needed for modem to work is for MAC to detected and setup a USB connection.(USB Only for MAC). And assign a modem script if a ISDN TA script is not available use USR high Speed. The modem needs to be configured for the ISDN Line. SPIDS, Switch, PPP etc... This is usually done with the Control Center software. On some of the CD's the Control Center software included has problems detecting the modem. In this case you need to access the modem via a terminal application like Zterm and configure with AT commands. The commands are listed below.

If you cannot see what you are typing in the Terminal window enter


Then to view the current line settings enter:


If you cannot see and verify that the setting are correct you can enter or modify them with the following commands

at*p0=(area code)<enter>
at*p1=(Directory Number 1)<enter>
at*p2=(Directory Number 2)<enter>
at*s1=(SPID 1)<enter>
at*s2=(SPID 2)<enter>

Alert light should go out.

For 128k connection enter:


After that you just need to tell whatever PPP dialing software to dial with this modem.

If you need someone to help you with this please call 801-401-1142 M-F 8am-4pm MST.

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to assist you. Should you require further assistance with your U.S. Robotics product, please feel free to contact us again.

Again, thank you for choosing U.S.Robotics.

Your feedback is important to us. Please visit our web site at in order to rate your support experience.

Tech support guy

So that's what we had to go with. I again took a trip to Joe's house to try and tackle the problem, this time toting my iBook. I again tried a few things, but none of them worked. I hooked the modem to the iBook, and it was recognized immediately with no software installed. Well, OS 9.0.4 on the iBook had something OS 8.6 didn't, so I copied all the USB extensions over to the iMac, but that didn't work. I then called Apple and asked the tech is OS 8.6 needed an update for external USB modems. Their conclusion was that OS 8.6 had support for USB modems, but they wanted to charge us $49.95 to give us further information. I told her that we would not spend $49.95 to only have them tell us to update the OS, so her only advise was to search the Knowledge Base on the Net, but she highly suggested that we update the OS. Well, updating the OS was an option but a last resort, and the Knowledge Base was of no help at all.

I decided to take the iMac home with me to do further testing with a Rev B iMac of my own - but with OS 9.0.4. When I hooked the modem to my iMac, viola!, it worked, so on to updating the OS on Joe's iMac. First step: update to OS 9. Well, at that point I tried the modem, and it was not found, so on to 9.0.4 - it worked! At least we could see the USB modem in the modem control panel.

I set up the script for the modem and tried to dial in. The script was bad, and it was bad again when recopied from CD, so I resorted to using the generic USR script that the tech suggested in his email. No errors at that point, so it was onto the connection manager to set up the Modem for ISDN.

Modem not recognized. So I tried a dumb terminal program to check the setting of the Modem. Well it managed to configure itself to my ISDN setup, and the iMac finally went online.

So here's the deal: USR and the poster/manual recommends OS 8.5 or better blah blah blah. 9.0.4 is a long way off. I had to make many more settings than the poster/manual mentioned, and I had to resort to a dumb terminal to set up the modem because their software didn't work. We would have been better off if 3Com/USR admitted that they knew nothing about the Mac and that we would be better off tossing out the manual and CD and figuring it our ourselves - at least we would have saved time not calling them.

The ISDN Pro TA Modem works on Windows via USB and a Mac via serial or USB. My thoughts are that the manual OS recommendations were for a serial based Mac but failed to mention OS requirements for USB based Macs. The Tech got one thing right - the software was bad. But the modem is not plug and play. Not mentioning settings in the Modem control panel was a bad error on their part. Even with the appropriate OS, I feel bad for the average user who tries to set this beast up. With such poor tech support, I imagine many of these Modems will be sent back as defective. It's too bad, because the Modem was very well designed, if only the software designers/manual writers/Q&A and tech support got off their cottage cheese arses and did their job, this would have been a plug and play scenario - not to mention a much more successful product.

My recommendations: Buy an ethernet modem. You can share the connection, and you only have to have Open Transport present for full functionality. I have OS 7.1 through OS 9 connected to an ethernet modem with no glitches whatsoever.

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