Throughout the years, America Online has been pretty notorious for its non-standard and proprietary connection protocols. During the older days of immobile desktop dial-up networking, this was problematic to only the barest few of bleeding-edge technophiles, but in today's wireless world, the ISP's prickliness has been a major turnoff to those who have wanted to share their paid-for Internet connection with anything besides their central PC.
The central issue is, of course, that AOL does not have "always-on" capability by default. Any device wishing to use an AOL Internet connection must, in fact, have AOL installed on it - hard enough for PDAs and mobile phones, and impossible on gaming systems such as the XBox and PSP.
DSL: The Simple Solution
In late 2003, AOL finally relented to one demand and allowed PPPoE (Point to Point Protocol over Ethernet) access for its DSL users. By setting up a PPPoE account in Linux, Mac, or Windows computers, a user could now simulate an always-on connection by having AOL connected in the background. Even further, many modern routers have PPPoE connectivity available on them - simply set your router up for the always-on experience, and any devices connecting through it were good to go.
In short, DSL people have had very little problems using their AOL connection to connect up their other non-AOL devices. This leads us to ...
Cable: The Not-So-Simple Solution
Cable modems do not support PPPoE connectivity, and thus AOL's acceptance of an open standard provides no comfort to AOL cable users. However, I recently bought a PSP and became so determined to make it connect to the Internet with my parents' AOL Cable that I spent about 5 hours doing it, but in doing so learned more about ports, routers, proxies, and internet protocols than I ever really wanted to know...
(Note: This walkthrough is Windows-oriented. For most Linux and Mac users, however, the basics are the same - a network connection is a network connection is a network connection, ya know?)
- For this solution, all you'll need hardware-wise is a working cable modem, router, and PC. Before you go any further, make sure these are set up such that you can connect to AOL from the PC (we'll call this the server from now on, for reasons later made clear) using the modem and router. (For the most part, just follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.)
- Our first step is to assign our central PC a static IP address. With most routers, when a computer connects to it, it is assigned a dynamic IP address - that is, the router has a range of acceptable IPs which it can assign to anything that connects to it, and does so largely at random. (In most cases, these numbers usually appear as 192.168.1.x). In our case, however, our central PC will serve as a proxy server, and thus we need it to always be in the same place when someone tries to connect - thus the "static" IP address.
- To assign the computer a static IP address, open up your Network Connections panel (usually located under Start > Control Panel for Windows users.)
- Find the connection marked "Local Area Connection" (if you can't find this one, return to step one!), right-click it, and go to Properties.
- Double-click the option marked "Internet Protocol (TCP/IP)".
- Click Use the following IP address and enter the following information:
IP address: 192.168.1.24
Subnet Mask: 255.255.255.0
Default gateway: 192.168.1.1
Preferred DNS Server: 192.168.1.1
Alternate DNS Server: 0.0.0.0
IMPORTANT: These numbers will only work if your router has been assigned the LAN IP address 192.168.1.1. If your LAN IP Address is 10.0.0.1 (in some cases) or if you have assigned yours another address, make sure that that is the number you enter for the gateway and DNS server. Your Subnet Mask should also match what you have assigned as the Subnet Mask for your router. The IP address's A, B, and C numbers should match your router's IP A, B, and C numbers.
- After making this change, restart your computer.
- Now that your computer is permanently residing at 192.168.1.24, our next step is to set up a NAT (Network Address Translation) server at 192.168.1.24 which will route all Internet traffic through your PC.
- There are a number of programs which offer proxy server capability. The best payware service is WinGate (http://www.wingate.com), and the best shareware solution is probably All Aboard!, found all over the Internet. (I used a trial version of WinGate 6.0.4 to get this working, but I might switch if I can do it for free.) In any case:
- Download and install WinGate 6.0.4 - nothing fancy or custim during the installation process. Restart your computer.
- Upon return, your system tray has two new icons: WinGate VPN and the WinGate Engine Monitor. The WinGate VPN is nice if you do VPN, but otherwise useless to us. The WinGate Engine Monitor simply lets you know if the WinGate service is up or down. Double-click either icon to open up WinGate's GUI interface called GateKeeper.
- The first time you use GateKeeper, follow the simple instructions to assign an Administrator password to it to avoid frivolous use. Once you are in GateKeeper, there are two things you must do to allow your central PC to use AOL:
- Under the Network tab, there should be an "Incoming Connections" option. This is your AOL connection. Right-click it, go to Properties, and make sure that the radio button labeled "An external untrusted network (i.e. the Internet)" is selected.
- Next, under System Services, double-click "Extended Networking" and a new window should pop up. Go to "Port Security", and click "Add." Call the addition "AOL", make sure that "Internet computers to the WinGate PC" is checked, and enter "5190" and "5190" in the port range. (5190 is AOL's proprietary sign on port. Even if you turn off WinGate's Firewall, AOL cannot connect unless this port is allowed.)
- As a final step, go to System Services again and double-click "DHCP Service." Go to "Bindings" and hit "Add." Under the "Local Area Connection" selection you should see "192.168.1.24" as an option (your static IP, remember?) Select this box and hit "OK", then hit "Apply" on the main page to make your changes stick. Now your PC is a working NAT server!
- To connect your gaming system - or any other device - to the Internet through the router, you must set it such that its default gateway is your PC's static IP address - 192.168.1.24 in this case. On the PSP, for example, you must assign the IP address manually - simply give the PSP an appropriate static IP address of its own, set the "Default Router" to your static IP address. Set the Subnet Mask and DNS server the same as earlier.
The best part to all of this is the side effect - with AOL 9.0 SE's new AOL Dialer, you can be permanently connected to the Internet without using AOL's interface on your central PC, and by using your server as the gateway rather than the router itself, you can simulate an always-on Internet connection throughout your whole home network. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: It's important to note that no solution is universal. It may take some tinkering with your router or with WinGate to get all of the connections working. Please /msg me or e-mail me if you have any further questions or troubles - having spent a long time on the Internet looking through gobbledygook and unhelpful guides and FAQs, I'm pretty sure I'm the first person who's even bothered to try to use their PSP with AOL's finicky service!