Computerlink: The complete Shakespeare by phone: A new digital transmission network should soon enable computers to relay text, data and graphics rapidly and clearly, says John Davitt

PEOPLE talk on the telephone, but computers cannot. Or at least, they cannot do so efficiently. The problem is that the simple copper wires that connect virtually every home in Britain are adequate to the 19th-century job of transmitting speech, but they cannot carry data as quickly and efficiently as computers would like to send it.

Integrated services digital network (ISDN) is a telecommunications system that allows data to be transmitted clearly, easily and quickly, along with voice communications. At the moment many organisations have their own dedicated lines for their internal computer networks, or else use the ordinary telephone network, with its inefficiencies, but ISDN is a common service specially designed for easy computer communications. It offers one all-embracing, multimedia network for carrying voice, data, text and graphics.

ISDN is designed to cope with the limitations imposed on millions of homes and businesses linked to telephone exchanges by standard copper wire. It is a clever way of extending the capabilities of the existing technology. Ideally, all homes and businesses would be plumbed into fibre optic cable capable of carrying information at vast speed - but the cost of this would be enormous, so copper cable will remain with us for a long time to come.

BT has been working with ISDN since 1985. It has developed a number of in-house standards for its own network. These are 'standards' in name only, however, as each of the 17 countries with ISDN networks are implementing the system in their own way, so straightforward compatibility is some way off.

At present BT has not undertaken to provide national coverage, but it does plan to have a complete service in place by the end of 1994.

BT has two services: ISDN 2 and ISDN 30. The ISDN 2 service provides two lines capable of transmitting data at a rate of 64 kilobits per second. This looks as if it will become an industry standard for small business and home use. Its big brother, ISDN 30, offers up to 30 64k lines and is aimed at large companies. This article, as an 80k file, would take about a second to send to the Independent through ISDN.

The European Commission, acting as honest broker, has worked with BT and its French and German counterparts to formulate a EuroFile protocol governing the use of ISDN. BT says it will conform to this standard. With Norway and Portugal likely to join this group, Europe is suddenly at the centre of compatible ISDN developments. Japan, Australia, a number of Pacific rim countries and the United States make up the rest of the global ISDN community, each with their own particular standard, and each slowly migrating towards a common format that would enable the same equipment to be used on a completely common network.

One result of widespread ISDN will be vastly to increase the speed and clarity of fax transmission. At the Integrated Communications Exhibition and Conference at Wembley earlier this month, the Japanese manufacturer Ricoh launched the first reasonably cheap high-speed fax. Costing about pounds 5,100, it uses ISDN lines to provide double the resolution and 10 times the speed of ordinary faxes. As I watched, the average time to send or receive each page of a fax was 1.5 seconds, faster than most photocopiers.

Computers are connected to ordinary telephone networks through modems, boxes that convert digital information into a series of audible bleeps which are sent down the line. Working from home, or teleworking, will become a more realistic proposition as a result of the tenfold increase in the speed of communication that ISDN offers over traditional transmission. As the computer and ISDN speak the same digital language, there is no need for signals to be converted.

At present, computers need to be fitted with networking cards - additional circuitry that manages the sending and receiving of information - to allow them to communicate via ISDN. These cost about pounds 1,000. Sun Microsystems has launched a machine that comes with an ISDN port, however, and other manufacturers are likely to do likewise.

ISDN also provides an alternative to expensive leased lines for linking an organisation's networks across large distances. Transfer rates for data are about a megabyte a minute, which means the complete works of Shakespeare could be sent in seven minutes.

ISDN could also be useful for collaborative work spanning long distances. For instance, a designer could sit in his London studio with the book cover he has created on the screen of his Apple Macintosh computer. The person who commissioned the work could be as far away as Newcastle and still see the same image. The two could discuss the artwork over the phone and make changes. With everyone satisfied, the designer could instruct his machine in London to print out the image in the Newcastle office. ISDN 2 is useful for such work, as one of the twin lines carries the data while the other handles the conversation.

Faster access to central stores of information may finally make it sensible to create and interrogate large multimedia databases. One example from the Netherlands on show at the exhibition offered 'hairstyling by ISDN'. Participants chose four styles from a book and a main computer in Utrecht was then called via an ISDN link. Within a minute graphics files of four elaborate hairstyles had arrived and wrapped themselves around a digitised image of the subject's face.

The main drawback is that to gain access to ISDN each user has to install a dedicated phone line, and in the UK they must pay a pounds 400 connection charge for ISDN 2. In France, the connection cost is pounds 70 and in Germany pounds 50. BT's explanation is that regulations prevent it subsidising the embryonic service by using money generated through its other activities. As line sales increase, connection charges should fall. With 122,000 ISDN channels installed in the UK (counting 30 for an ISDN 30 connection, 2 for an ISDN 2), we should not have long to wait.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home