Advantages of ISDN

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The modem was a big breakthrough in computer communications. It allowed computers to communicate by converting their digital information into an analog signal to travel through the public phone network. There is an upper limit to the amount of information that an analog telephone line can hold. Currently, it is about 56 kb/s bidirectionally. Commonly available modems have a maximum speed of 56 kb/s, but are limited by the quality of the analog connection and routinely go about 45-50 kb/s. Some phone lines do not support 56 kb/s connections at all. There were currently 2 competing, incompatible 56 kb/s standards (X2 from U S Robotics (recently bought by 3Com), and K56flex from Rockwell/Lucent). This standards problem was resolved when the ITU released the V.90, and later V.92, standard for 56 kb/s modem communications.

ISDN allows multiple digital channels to be operated simultaneously through the same regular phone wiring used for analog lines. The change comes about when the telephone company's switches can support digital connections. Therefore, the same physical wiring can be used, but a digital signal, instead of an analog signal, is transmitted across the line. This scheme permits a much higher data transfer rate than analog lines. BRI ISDN, using a channel aggregation protocol such as BONDING or Multilink-PPP, supports an uncompressed data transfer speed of 128 kb/s, plus bandwidth for overhead and signaling. In addition, the latency, or the amount of time it takes for a communication to begin, on an ISDN line is typically about half that of an analog line. This improves response for interactive applications, such as games.

Multiple Devices

Previously, it was necessary to have a separate phone line for each device you wished to use simultaneously. For example, one line each was required for a telephone, fax, computer, bridge/router, and live video conference system. Transferring a file to someone while talking on the phone or seeing their live picture on a video screen would require several potentially expensive phone lines.

ISDN allows multiple devices to share a single line. It is possible to combine many different digital data sources and have the information routed to the proper destination. Since the line is digital, it is easier to keep the noise and interference out while combining these signals. ISDN technically refers to a specific set of digital services provided through a single, standard interface. Without ISDN, distinct interfaces are required instead.


Instead of the phone company sending a ring voltage signal to ring the bell in your phone ("In-Band signal"), it sends a digital packet on a separate channel ("Out-of-Band signal"). The Out-of-Band signal does not disturb established connections, no bandwidth is taken from the data channels, and call setup time is very fast. For example, a V.90 or V.92 modem typically takes 30-60 seconds to establish a connection; an ISDN call setup usually takes less than 2 seconds.

The signaling also indicates who is calling, what type of call it is (data/voice), and what number was dialed. Available ISDN phone equipment is then capable of making intelligent decisions on how to direct the call.

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Updated December 5, 2006
Copyright © 1996-2006 by Ralph Becker < > send me Feedback!