Datacoms for the masses

I have a little secret that Iíd like to share with you. Only about 10,000 clued-in people in the UK know it but the ranks are swelling rapidly.

ISDN, heretofore a minor part of that long awaited digital communications revolution, will be responsible for more and better use of Internet by both large businesses and small.

I can recall just a few short years ago when ISDN was mooted as the "next big thing" at some press event, there were titters heard from every corner of the room. Yes, the hacks had heard it all somewhere before. Their yawns were typically cynical and showed that they were under-whelmed to hear it all again: especially in the wake of such resounding indifference from the chequebook carrying business public. My, how the times are changing!

ISDN, which stands for Integrated Services Digital Network, went through a period where it was too dear for most users and not potent enough for the ones that had the money. Then, too, there was the issue of availability. It wasnít all that possible to get ISDN where it was wanted and because it was such a rarity, you could actually call BT and ask about it and hear "Whatís that?" from the sales representative.

Now ISDN is available at virtually every business and home address and BT has revamped the tariffs so that the call charges are in almost every case no more expensive than a voice call made to the same location at the same time of day. For the same unit charge you can pipe data down a phone wire at 64 Kb per second with ISDN instead of the 14.4 Kb that a fast standard modem will deliver. Thatís a bit more than four times the data per £ spent. If thatís not fast enough, you can use compression or B channel bundling to double that data rate.

Why pay the same for less bandwidth?

You'll be over the above when you communicate at 128k bps

Data communications are best when they are done for the lowest price possible. The only difference between expensive bandwidth and cheap bandwidth from BT is the hole it leaves in your bank account!

Itís not plain sailing for ISDN yet, although the signs and portents indicate that the good times are rolling in. Modems are getting faster, and cable TO companies are vying to provide high bandwidth services to every sitting room. Terminal adapters (TAs), the equivalent of an ISDN modem, are still expensive (but they are getting cheaper and better, too).

At present, there are far too many problems trying to get a TA from one manufacturer to communicate with the TA of another. Different standards apply, and the V.110 and V.120 communications formats exist to further confuse the issue.

In fact, such is the torment of communicating via ISDN that service providers using the medium, like Phonelinkís TelMe service, that they supply their own (apparently) proprietary ISDN interfaces that seem unwilling to communicate with anything ISDN-wise other than TelMe.

OST provides a PC card and file transfer scheme called WiSDN: a windows-based fast file transfer utility that has a reasonably intricate installation process (the sort that you donít want to know about if your system already has things like Sound cards and fast serial ports). But it needs to talk to a close relative at the far end. Open communications architecture it is not: and thatís part of the rationale: itís more secure for "in-house" corporate networking. Hmm...

Someone is working on a more general purpose communications package for the card, along with Windows for Workgroups remote access features and facilities for later in the year.

The Hayes V.120 (56/64k) TA looks and feels just like a Hayes Modem. And works the same, except that connection is instant and data transfer is always very fast. Regular DOS and Windows communications products work with it (high speed I/O permitting).

And then thereís an embargoed new ISDN product from "a large CPU companty" that provides live video (fun, but only really reminiscent of the first man on the moon pictures), remote control and very high speed (128k) file transfers. (How long before the 0898 premium line operators get hold of this idea too ...?)

In short bursts...

However, if you need an intermittent but high speed connection to the Internet, like most users do, there isnít at present a better way to connect than ISDN. Fast connections transform the interactivity of World Wide Web pages and make their multimedia facets gleam.

File transfers flash across (assuming the bottleneck was hitherto in your slow modem link: not always the case...) Call set up time is nil (well, no more than a couple of seconds), not half a minute (or more) as with a modem. Which means that your software can automatically log in and log out depending on the request for packets from your system, minimizing connect time and costs. Connections to the office LAN from the home office are transparent (no traffic jams and rail strikes).

The Internet and ISDN could have been made for one another. This is a secret that you donít have to keep to yourself. Pass it on. And if your Internet service provider isnít in on the secret, maybe you should find one that is.

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