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Lessons you learn when you offer ISDN for free.

Want to learn something about ISDN use? Give 46 people free basic rate ISDN lines and find out what they think.

BellSouth took that approach in Tennessee. The telco started a trial in January that expires in November - or when a tariff is approved, whichever comes first.

Participants took the free ISDN line as an add-on service and had to buy their own equipment, ranging in cost from $400 to $2,500. That pretty well eliminated anyone whose only motivation was to get into the trial for a freebie phone line.

Generally, trial participants are technically aware customers, says Robert Capell, senior director for data services for BellSouth. They use ISDN for data and LAN access and for fairly sophisticated residential and small business uses.

"What we found is that the primary attractions for single line ISDN are data and video applications," Capell says. "There is much more interest in higher line speed and greater bandwidth and the ability to handle simultaneous voice and data and compressed video.

"The kinds of applications that seem to be the most popular - and this is probably a confirmation of what most people in the industry thought - are telecommuting, LAN access, videoconferencing and community of interest networks."

In the course of the trial, a systems integrator came up with an innovative application for real estate agents frequently out of their office.

Bob Cameron of Cameron Communications Group developed software that handles calls that come to an agent's direct number at a central location. Calls are then routed to the agent, whether he or she is in a car, at home or at another office.

On each call, using Caller ID data, information is captured about who called, which agent was called, and where the call was transferred. The software also makes it easy for agents to change the forwarding numbers via simple voice prompts.

Another application that grew out of the trial was high-speed access to an existing bulletin board. Capell says that application was developed by an ISDN user group sponsored by the Tennessee Public Service Commission.

While no large businesses actually participated in the Tennessee trial, Capell says their needs were given attention.

"We found a need among larger business users for LAN access and for telecommuting. If we are to meet that need, we have to simplify it for them and provide connectivity for their entire targeted community of interest. We must make sure we can provide them with connectivity to - if not all - at least the vast majority of folks interested in telecommuting or providing access."

Clearing the way

The weak point in ISDN ubiquity is generally viewed as the local exchange carriers' central offices (COs). The trial, however, spotlighted another point - the interexchange carriers - where improvements are needed.

"We and they found that their networks, on a ubiquitous basis, were not ready for 64 kb/s clear channel connectivity. One carrier has agreed, as a result of what we jointly learned, to provide the clear connectivity," says Capell.

What happens is that the 64 kb/s channel of ISDN must be rate adapted to the 56 kb/s that interexchange carriers routinely provide. Capell says BellSouth and the carriers "found out how much additional work we need to do to provide end-to-end 64 kb/s."

Lessons learned in the trial did influence the form of the Tennessee tariff, Capell says.

"It appears that the small business customer is more interested in various configurations than the residential customer and both are interested in pricing options, both flat rate and usage-sensitive.

"We need to provide the variability and let them make the selection. We need to simplify the ordering process. We need to provide a basic ISDN DSL (digital subscriber line) to the customer and let the customer, to the extent he wants additional features, add those features on top."

BellSouth also revised its policy that ISDN customers had to be located within 18,000 feet of a serving CO. It dropped the distance limitation entirely.

Another critical lesson came out of the trial. Capell says it is clear that customers' big concerns about ISDN focus more on connectivity and the cost of equipment than the cost of the service itself.

"We think we can utilize that to work with other players, especially CPE providers, to see if we can provide creative approaches," Capell says.

Perhaps we'll see a return to the old days of renting your CPE from the phone company for a monthly fee.

Caller ID

Another Tennessee trial gave ammunition to the telco's insistence that any blocking of Caller ID information be allowed on a per-call basis, rather than per line. In a separate trial, 500 Nashville consumers used Northern Telecom phone sets that displayed incoming numbers. The most popular service was Caller ID Deluxe, which displays name and number of an incoming caller.
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.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:BellSouth Corp.; Integrated Services Digital Network; ISDN Forum
Author:Tanzillo, Kevin
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Voice processing speeds Sacramento customer service.
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