Home Latin America I 2000 Broadband vs. ISDN. High Speed Connections, How Much Is Enough?

Broadband vs. ISDN. High Speed Connections, How Much Is Enough?

by david.nunes
Marcio RozaIssue:Latin America I 2000
Article no.:9
Topic:Broadband vs. ISDN. High Speed Connections, How Much Is Enough?
Author:Marcio Roza
Title:Former President
PDF size:20KB

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Article abstract

How much speed do you want? How much can you use? Most of us would rather have a Ferrari than a scooter, but what would we do with a Ferrari, today, if we had one? Could we really use it? Could we drive it fast enough? Would we be allowed to? Broadband telecommunications access presents a similar problem. For many, perhaps most users, one of the key questions posed by broadband, always on, service is: “Okay, now I have it, what do I do with it?”

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This question, certainly, reminds one of the questions asked by personal computer users not too long ago. “What do I need, 8MB or 16 MB or 32MB of memory for?” “A 500MB disk? What for?” “A 66MHz CPU? I only write letters.” Recent history has proved, once again, that work not only expands to fill the available time, but that applications expand to fill available hardware at an astounding, confounding, rate. The history of technology and the prevalent more-is-better attitude both argue that, sooner or later, if capacity is available it will be used. This goes for your computer and, in parallel, for the connections it makes with the world. For many users, the answer to the question, “How much speed do you need?” is still, “MORE!” Right, but do you need it today? Can you use it today? If you are not an e-business, or such, what can you do today with a megabyte or gigabyte link? Can you use one at home? There is substantial evidence that computer users are beginning to see that they do not always need the latest and greatest machines to do everything they need. The low price, under US$1000, computer is now the fastest growing segment of the market. Instead of paying the price for the biggest, the fastest and the best, a growing number of people are taking a more realistic look at their needs. Many decide that it does not make sense to pay for more than they need, more than they can use. These users measure their communications needs with the same yardstick. They will not spend for bandwidth and speed they cannot use. Where are the applications to use high speed, broadband, links? What can you do with them? There is much talk of when-you-want-it access to entertainment, to digitized films with multiple interactive channels, providing a treasure chest of information, to sports events with multiple angles, re-plays, computer analysis, statistics and the like. There is much talk, but much of it is only talk. Few seem to be investing in this sort of content, or any other special content, except for isolated tests. Until there is a timely, guaranteed, varied and robust inventory of bandwidth dependant content, the demand for really high speed services will be limited. The World Wide Web calls for speed, but not that much. Today, broadband in all its flavours is much discussed. Multi-gigabyte fibre links are on the wish lists not only of e-businesses, financial institutions and other heavily data transmission dependant operations. Fibre links also haunt the dreams, together with the girl next door, of many Internet obsessed adolescents. Telephone companies look to xDSL, digital subscriber line, technology to coax high-speed performance out of their copper networks. Electrical utilities are putting fibre into their ground wires and hope to use their systems not only to power your refrigerator, but to deliver fibre based data to your home. Subscriber TV companies look to claim their piece of home market for high-speed data. They plan to deliver the Internet using the same cables, antennas or satellite dishes that deliver the evening news report. Low orbit satellite operators and LMDS wireless broadband operators are also taking aim on a piece of this market. All of the technologies work. All of the technologies will be used. Where each technology will be used and when will depend upon a variety of factors, few of them really technical. Business, financial and marketing considerations will speak louder than good technology when the networks are deployed. The race is on. Each system has advantages and all have disadvantages. Most, at least in theory, are faster than ISDN service. Despite this, there are good reasons why “mere” 128Kb connections, ISDN connections, are offered by many telephone operating companies throughout the world, and why this less-than-best service is a good deal for the user. From the consumers point of view, even though it is a dial-up technology, in most cases you pay for each minute on line, it can be more economical than alternative ways on systems such as ADSL, TV cable or even standard phone links. Even more important, it is sufficient for almost all the services that are commercially available today. ISDNs basic transmission speed of 128Kbs is up to five times faster than that of a typical, standard, modem connection. Higher capacity links are available for businesses, but the main market for ISDN will, in all likelihood, be smaller businesses, community centres, home offices and personal use. The variety, speed, cost and facilities of competing solutions for businesses seem to doom whatever pretensions ISDN has for a major role in business applications. ISDN speeds are adequate not only for pleasingly rapid Internet access, but also for such increasingly popular applications as video conferencing. ISDN is not quite up to the demands of really high fidelity high-speed image transmission. The quality is not as good as that of a television set, but it is more than good enough for many critical applications. The July 1999 issue of Psychiatric Annals, a magazine for practicing psychiatrists, was dedicated to “telepsychiatry.” In most of the cases discussed 128kbs ISDN ITV (interactive televideo) was used. The psychiatric applications ranged from remote clinical evaluation and therapy to forensic telepsychiatry including teleconferencing in a courtroom environment. For the most part, 128kbs ISDN imaging, except in cases where the evaluation of fast moving subtle changes of expression was needed, was more than adequate. ISDN is popular with many telephone companies. It is a mature technology that has been around for many years. Over the years standards have been fought over and improved. While the standards battle was going on the equipment was tuned and tweaked the bugs removed and the systems were extensively tested by the telephone companies. There is a good range of readily available, affordable, equipment. True, ISDN has never been hugely popular, but this was due in part to the reluctance of telephone companies to offer the service until the standards question was resolved. Also, the demand for home ISDN, or any sort of high capacity data service, was limited. Until the Internet became really popular in the last few years, there was not much need for it. Today, though, due to the Internet the demand for quick access and fast transmission has grown considerably. ISDN is now available through most of the major telephone companies in the United States, Europe, Japan and many other regions of the world ISDN. In Latin America ISDN is just starting. Telemar, the telephone operating company that covers all of Brazil from Rio de Janeiro to the Northern borders, already offers ISDN service in several regions and is starting to offer ISDN in Rio de Janeiro.From the Telephone Companys point of view, ISDN has several advantages. It can be easily deployed at most locations within 5 kilometers from any digital exchanges. The signaling and connection times are faster with ISDN lines than on POTs (plain old telephone) systems. Existing copper wiring is used and multiple devices can be hooked to the same customer line terminator. The telephone can be used normally to call or receive calls while using the data channel. You can surf the Web, at reduced (64kbs) velocity, and speak on the phone at the same time. The cost, to the telephone company, of equipment for an ISDN line is approximately US$150. An xDSL circuit costs seven to ten times as much. Much of the cost difference arises from the fact that ISDN connections are switched through existing digital exchanges whereas xDSL lines require a separate, parallel, infrastructure. Although, ISDN installation is fairly straightforward, it often requires extensive rewiring in multiphone residences since all the circuits must pass first through the ISDN terminal positioned near the computer. ADSL, in contrast, is more expensive to install in the house since each phone requires its own attachment device. ISDN and ADSL lines must both be within 5 kilometers of the exchange, but the higher frequency ADSL signal requires careful selection of the wire pairs used to maintain transmission quality and minimize interference with adjacent circuits. Conclusion The lower cost of ISDN lines gives the operating company more leeway to adjust the pricing. Although not normally thought of as an “always on” technology, when capacity permits, flat rate pricing schemes can go a long way towards extending the competitiveness of this service compared to cable or ADSL. Competition with other carriers and other technologies can, thus, be met for several years. ISDN pay phones, with screens, are also a cost effective way of bringing the Internet, and other data based applications, to airports, community facilities and schools.

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