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How British users stay ahead with ISDN.

Although at one time ISDN was said to stand for "Innovations Subscribers Don't Need," there is a wide range of applications already in place in the U.K. The system is used by both knowledge workers and those carrying out routine tasks from their homes, instead of from a normal office, in addition to widely touted applications such as Group IV fax and video-conferencing.

The U.K. has been in the forefront of developments since British Telecom (BT) introduced its IDA (Integrated Digital Access) pilot service in June 1985. It offered two traffic channels, one at 64 kb/s and the other at 8 kb/s. By 1988 it was available in 60 towns throughout Britain.

This was not in accordance with the CCITT's (Consultative Committee for Telephones & Telegraphs) "Red Book" of ISDN Recommendations, published in 1984. However, while a number of operators followed these recommendations, the CCITT 1988 "Blue Book" Recommendations contain significant changes and clarifications which should lead to truly international standards.

BT, having bypassed the Red Book, is probably the first operator to implement the Blue Book requirements. According to the latest figures available, at the middle of February 1993 BT had installed 17,950 "B" channels at Basic Rate (BRI), or some 9,000 BRIs and 108,000 "B" channels at primary rate. It is difficult to correlate this latter figure with the actual number of Primary Rate (PRI) users, as users no longer have to take full 30-channel PRIs, but are able to buy as few as 15 channels.

Usage is not limited to cities. The Highlands and Islands region of Scotland is the beneficiary of EC funding under the STAR program aimed at providing modern communications to rural areas of the European Community. Consequently, today it has an excellent fiber-optic infrastructure and an availability of ISDN second to none with both PRI and BRI readily available.

One of the most interesting applications is the use of ISDN to process medical and scientific articles for an online database. Pioneered by Crossaig Ltd., this reduces the time taken for published journals to appear in the Elsevier Embase database from one month, when the work is carried out manually, to just one week.

Crossaig's four permanent staff at the company's office in Helensburgh scan articles and store the images in the computer. Optical character recognition (OCR) is then used to convert the image into text. Each outworker, who is a specialist in the appropriate medically-related discipline, is equipped with a standard IBM-compatible PC, which is linked to Helensburgh over ISDN2 (BT's name for BRI) using a Gravatom SO PC card. This converts the PC into an ISDN terminal.

It takes eight seconds to send a typical file between Helensburgh and the appropriate medical expert's home, which may be in Perth, Glasgow or some other part of Scotland. Each article is then indexed under the 160,000 medical terms listed in Elsevier's thesaurus.

When the task is completed, the indexed work is sent back over the ISDN connection to Helensburgh and then on to Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Elsevier Science Publishing.

Crossaig's goal is to edit all of the 100,000 English-language articles from U.K. journals that are down-loaded annually into the Embase database. To achieve this, they aim to have 50 specialist editors who can be located anywhere in Scotland.

In conjunction with the Highlands and Islands Development Board, Crossaig is also looking at ways to use its skills to process other kinds of information.

A totally different application of ISDN is being tested by BT itself. It is engaged in a 12-month trial in which 10 volunteer directory assistance operators are working in the comfort of their homes around Inverness, Scotland, rather than from an office in the telephone exchange in the center of the town. The purpose of the experiment is to investigate the technical, managerial and social aspects of telecommuting, so systems can be developed to satisfy the increasing demand for alternative ways of working.

The volunteers have specially adapted terminals installed in their homes, giving them all the on-line facilities available in the center. To counter any feelings of isolation they are linked by videophones. This gives them direct contact with their supervisor and, during breaks, allows them to chat with each other or catch up with the office gossip through another videophone (see June 1993 CN).

A problem frequently encountered with high-tech medicine is that of taking the mountain to Mohammed. Modern diagnostic equipment is exceedingly expensive and often cannot be moved. At the same time, there is a great deal of pressure on specialists' time.

Magnetic resonance imaging/computerized tomography (MRI/CT) has brought vast improvements over traditional X-rays as a medical diagnostic tool, one of the major benefits being the enhanced contrast which enables soft tissue to be differentiated from its surroundings.

However, as can be expected with any high resolution imaging, the price to be paid is the vast amount of data in each image.

Simis Medical Imaging has installed a system at the Kent Oncology Center at Maidstone, Kent, southeast England, which is using ISDN to transmit 256 x 256 x 16 bit MRI images from the scanner to a remote location where they can be viewed by specialists. To transmit each image in the acceptable time of around one minute, they inverse multiplex 8 B channels.

The Wales Information Network (WIN) uses BRI to link 10 Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) in Wales to provide individuals with immediate access to information on education, training and career opportunities. Previously information, now available from WIN, was sourced from stand-alone PCs and transported via floppy disks.

WIN appointed Jaguar Communications (which was also the supplier to Simis) as its sole supplier. According to WIN manager Linda Tomos, "We decided to use ISDN as we believe it will provide the best framework for long-term growth and development of the network. We had worked with Jaguar in the past with good results and were confident in their technical expertise and professionalism. This was particularly important as ISDN is a new technology to us, so we had to be assured that our supplier could provide advice and support as well as equipment."

WIN is now actively encouraging a wide number of partners such as employers, careers advisers and educational establishments to join the network in order to increase the range of information sources available.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:integrated services digital networks
Author:Morant, Adrian
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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