Thursday, December 15, 2005


Zoom Modem Hell

Early this week, I was asked to take a look at some last-minute issues with a system that was to go live next Monday. "There are just a couple of minor issues," they said, "so we expect everything to be ready to go by the end of the week."

I took a look at the list of outstanding issues, and there was only one show-stopper bug, which I fixed in about ten minutes. I sent that fix off to the Quality Assurance department, confident that there would be no pressure for the rest of the week, because the remaining issues were minor and wouldn't affect any decision to deploy.

Then I tried to use the modem.

It turns out that the modems installed on these systems don't work. None of them. We have a warehouse full of machines with non-functional modems.

During development, we tested with a particular model of modem. However, it turns out that the production systems contain a different model, which requires different driver software. Nobody told the software developers. We didn't find out until this week, when Kris tried to get his modem working. Surprise! It's always exciting to find something like this the week before go-live.

"OK, so maybe we can just install drivers for these different modems," I think. I download the drivers from the manufacturer's site, and try to install. The installation program crashes. Hmmm. So I track down a CD-ROM that contains the drivers, and run the setup program from there. Again, the installation program crashes. We can't install the drivers for these modems on our systems.

I contacted the modem manufacturer's tech support department, telling them I tried running the installation program from both the CD-ROM and after downloading from the web site. Their response 24 hours later: "Try downloading the installation program from the web site." They clearly had not read any part of my e-mail other than "The setup program crashes when I run it."

I send them another e-mail, and the next response I get is essentially "Well, it worked for me when I downloaded it and ran it. Try running a virus scan." That's tech-support code, which really means "F**k off, idiot." In return, I'll warn everyone I can to not buy anything from Zoom Telephonics. (For the search engines: Zoom modems suck. Zoom bad. Zoom crap. Zoom blows. Zoom evil. Zoom technical support poor.)

The really frustrating thing is that installing drivers really amounts just to copying a couple of files and setting some registry entries. Their fancy-but-buggy setup program isn't really necessary. If Zoom would let me talk to one of their engineers, we could probably resolve this in half an hour. But the profit they make from a couple hundred modems isn't worth it. They would rather let Brian The Minimum-Wage Tech Support Guy spout canned responses back at me.

Meanwhile, I'm fielding phone calls and e-mails from pissed-off managers and co-workers wondering why the hell nobody tested this before, why can't we get it to work, who's responsible for this fiasco, what can we do now, and so on, and so on. I'm wondering a lot of these things myself. I had no involvement with this project before Monday, so I don't know the history, and can't accept any of the blame or point any fingers.

So what do we do? The first plan was to replace the "bad" modems in every machine with the "good" modems that we used during development and initial testing. Unfortunately, the "good" modems went out of production about a year ago, and we can't buy them any more. We need to find another model of modem that will work. This shouldn't be difficult, but it will take a couple of days to identify one and then get a quantity of them shipped. The deployment will be delayed, which will be both embarrassing and costly to the company.

The lesson to be learned is that it is important to test software with the actual hardware that will be deployed. It's a familiar lesson, which I'm sure we will learn several more times. The other lesson is that buying the cheapest modems you can find may not pay off.

I can't believe we still have this much trouble with modems. Modems have been around for decades. You'd think we would have mastered them by now. But the modem manufacturers keep producing new models each year, ceasing production of the old ones, and so we have to keep "upgrading." Why?

UPDATE (2005/12/19): Received this from Zoom Technical Support:

We have not heard from you concerning your request for support in the 72 hours since we sent you a response. Consequently, we have changed the status of your question to SOLVED.

Thanks Zoom.

Zoom Modems have been crap modems ever since the early 90s. I remember working for some General Electric IT experts (I was temping -- that's how long ago it was) who said "The only good modem is a Hayes Modem".

They were also outsourcing IT programming projects to India back before "teh Intarnets".
The really sad thing is that Zoom now owns the Hayes brand name.
I worked for Zoom for a few years (a few years longer than I should!). It is not only their modems that suck, it is the company as a whole, starting from the top! I agree, stay away from Zoom modems, zoom adapters, zoom anything. They don't make anything anyway, having lost most of their engineering staff.
I also worked for Zoom for many years and and was in tech support. Let me tell you they dont care if a modem works or doesnt they just push out cheap crappy products and hope 1 out of 100 might work. I had to give so many excuses for bad drivers and shotty fixes that never seemed to work anyway. The tech support manager was also an idiot who knew nothing about "tech support". I would advise not to buy anything from Zoom.
You were rude to the "underpaid tech Brian" which knows more then you think. Your right Zoom modems suck but idiots like you take it out on the tech support guy that is trying to help. If you have multiple modem with the same issue then you need to fix it!!!! I highly doubt all those modems were faulty!!!! If your so high up on the IT ladder why didn't you figure it out?? I mean you must be making more then Brian right ? You don't sound very smart....jackass
I wasn't taking it out on the poor tech-support guy. I was chiding Zoom for not providing any support options other than the poor tech-support guy.

You ask why I didn't figure it out myself? Because their software was crashing. I can't rewrite their software, or whip up my own drivers for their hardware. Doesn't matter how smart I am, or how much money I'm making.

When my customers call me to say my software isn't work, I can't just say "Gee, try re-downloading it and running a virus scan." I have to make it work, and make them happy. Too bad Zoom doesn't have the same commitment.
How many modem or computer manufactures let you speak to the engineers to resolve problems? Zero !
Yes they should try and resolve the issue but they are out to make money. Tech support cost companies more money then then the product. On average it can cost $20 per call for these companies. That's why apple has great support cause your paying for it !!! Apple products cost more and offer better support.
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