26 August 2003

ISDN still a contender - The AustralianIT

IF you were asked to pick a four-letter acronym representing a high-speed data service available over the telephone network, chances are you'd think of ADSL well before ISDN. Yet integrated services digital network (ISDN) continues to be promoted to businesses, and apparently demand for the service is still there. According to Telstra, in the first 18 months that ADSL services were available in Australia, sales of ISDN products to small and medium businesses rose by 169 per cent. Telstra alone claims to install 4000 ISDN services a month. Last month, it introduced a service aimed at home users under its BigPond brand.

While Telstra is keen to promote ADSL to home users, the service is difficult to install for customers near a non-equipped exchange, or who are outside the 3.5 kilometre limit for ADSL services. According to Telstra, 96 per cent of Australians can access ISDN services, and equipment costs are generally lower than satellite, the other access alternative for remote users.

As well as Telstra, ISDN packages are also offered by Alpha, Highway 1 and OzEmail, among others. Some providers require Telstra to install the initial line. ISDN's speeds compare relatively favourably to ADSL, offering rates of up to 128Kbps on a basic-rate service and up to 2Mbps on an aggregated primary rate service.

Unlike standard internet services, ISDN can also combine voice and data on a single system, with guaranteed quality of service. Pricing for ISDN is on similar lines to DSL: an installation charge of a few hundred dollars, specialised access equipment, and volume charging for all data.

Most telcos say business-grade products such as ISDN are not being cannibalised by bargain residential internet services based on ADSL or cable. That may be simple denial. A national broadband survey by Pacific Internet finds 44 per cent of broadband connections sold in Australia are for small businesses. Many pass up higher speed for cheaper residential products.

Other new products also represent a threat. Telstra recently announced its first off-the-rack IP telephony service, and says it plans to target such services at small businesses. IP telephony also allows a combination of voice and data, as well as making it easier to integrate them in a single application.



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