By Thomas R. Ray, III CPBE, AMD, DRB
Tom Ray Consulting
NEW YORK — You may have noticed that my column is late this week. I normally write it over the weekend. Something told me to hold off. And today there is something to talk about.
And I said this at least 5 years ago.
When I built the WOR studio facility at 111 Broadway, we used ISDN lines for listener call in lines and had nothing but trouble with them because they arrived at the studios on ancient copper cable rather than on fiber. The Verizon people I met with at the time told me flat out that, within the next 5 years, they will begin phasing out ISDN. And they went as far as telling me that, when a Verizon Central Office is upgraded, there would be no plans for ISDN service and we would have to make other plans. Why, you may ask?
Because ISDN is no longer a money maker for phone companies. ISDN was introduced for use as “high speed” internet. It is guaranteed to run at a whopping 128 kiloBits per second. At the time it was introduced, this speed was unheard of. Today, with 5 megaBit DSL being the norm in many locations, we laugh at this speed. Yet Broadcasters adopted ISDN as a standard for getting remote audio from point A to point B with good quality. And it was reliable. And the timing was right, as AT&T Long Lines had, not too far before the introduction of Switched 56 services and ISDN , closed up shop. So equipment was developed and Broadcasters adopted ISDN for remotes that gave close to studio quality in many instances for reasonable prices.
The other big user of ISDN, according to the Verizon persons I spoke with, were banks. Those new fangled ATM’s adopted ISDN for faster service for their customers. Today, these ATM’s can utilize a cellular data connection or DSL connection for less money and better data throughput.
So the customer base for ISDN has shrunk drastically over the past 20 years.
And now I’m going to go one step further. I half expect to see a couple of guys in white coats show up at the door after you read this.
DIALTONE SERVICE, AS WE KNOW IT, WILL BE GONE WITHIN THE NEXT 10 YEARS.
Yeah, yeah. I’m off my rocker. You want to know what I’ve been smoking. Must be great drugs. But this has already started, and you may not even be aware of it.
Phone company Central Offices have been using something similar to IP for years. They have moved into the IP world. Think of it from their perspective. To supply you with telephone service, they need to run a pair of copper wires right to your doorstep. How many houses are there between the CO in your area and your home? 100? 1000? 5000? That’s one big fat expensive copper cable that needs to go down your street. And it needs to be maintained.
Now let’s look at fiber. The phone company can run a lightweight fiber down the street, let it hit several “breakout boxes” along the way, and run a short copper run or fiber run to your doorstep. Their costs go way down. The fiber is physically stronger than copper wire, and the weight is considerably less, so maintenance costs go way down. In general, reliability and quality go up.
But there is a catch. Most of the fiber goes to a “SLIC”, a Subscriber Line Interface device, in your neighborhood. These devices run on AC power and have battery backup. Guess what happens when power goes out? You have about 4 hours before your service ceases to exist.
I know for a fact that my home phone line is a copper home run from the Central Office. I have had the local phone company (not Verizon) call wanting to sell me additional services and offering to change my service over to something “more reliable”. I can count on one hand the number of times I have called them in the past 15 years to service this line, and I know of one time when their CO flooded out – yet I still had service – noisy service, but I still had service. I have refused their offers and they have left me alone – thus far. I live 60 miles north of New York City – not quite out in the sticks, but pretty close to it. With the number of power failures we have around here, I’d have too many times when I don’t have service if I let them move me to a SLIC.
And I look at my 84 year old father-in-law in Connecticut. He thought it was cool to put in fiber. I told him not to. He never listens. Over the past several winters, he has had numerous occasions where he has lost power, once for 10 days, and had no phone service because the SLIC was down. He has a button he wears around his neck with a button to push if he is in trouble. Want to guess how those work? They connect wirelessly to a remote base that dials a phone number. It works really well if there is no dialtone. My wife said “well, he has his cell phone”. That’s fine and dandy. First, if his fiber SLIC is out, most likely so is the closest cell site. And with his button, he only has to grasp the device to trigger it. What if he can’t dial 911 and hit send? And then, he’d have to tell the operator where he is. What if he can’t do that??
Yes, the technological advances are great – quality is greatly improved. But at the cost of losing reliability – and loss of safety.
But back to losing ISDN. What are broadcasters to do? First, if you have ISDN circuits, leave them in. Unless there is a major overhaul of the Central Office you are served from, you will retain your circuits. If you need circuits put in, order them now to be put in before the deadline when the phone company will no longer install.
For the future, look into IP codecs. There are still companies that manufacture POTS codecs. Right now, these are our best bet.
Someone opined that you shouldn’t rely on an IP public Internet connection for a valuable remote broadcast. Perhaps he is correct – when he can get ISDN right now. But in the future, what may be the choice? That being said, we here in the United States should be ashamed of ourselves. I’ve been to Europe. The Europeans have us beat hands down in Internet connectivity and telephone connectivity. ISDN has been the standard in Europe for 20 years now – and here in the US, sometimes getting it is like pulling teeth.
I will be attending the NAB show starting April 6, and will be looking for what may be available for the future for remote broadcasting. I will be picking the brains of companies like Comrex (be forewarned, Tom and Kris) about what the future may hold, and you will read my findings here.
In the mean time, start researching IP codecs. If you need ISDN service, order it now. If you have it, don’t get rid of it unless you are really sure you will not need it in the future.
Life is an interesting journey. It’s about to get more interesting.
Thomas R. Ray, III CPBE, AMD, DRB is president of Tom Ray Consulting and Technical Editor of TALKERS. He can be phoned at 845-418-5065 or emailed at email@example.com. His website is www.tomrayconsulting.com. Meet Tom Ray at TALKERS New York 2013 on Thursday June 6.