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ISDN targeted at home office

Once plagued by consumer complaints and poor marketing, ISDN providers are trying to spin the midband Net connection into a tool for telecommuters.

SAN DIEGO--Once plagued by consumer complaints and poor marketing, ISDN providers are trying to spin the midband Net connection into the ultimate tool for telecommuters.

At ISDN World today, product vendors, telcos, and Internet service providers unveiled new solutions to expand usage of ISDN into home offices.

With the emergence of cable, xDSL, and 56-kbps modems, Integrated Services Digital Network providers are fighting to capture the market of consumers and business customers who are abandoning the use of traditional analogue phone lines to access the Net.

Although ISDN service can connect to the Net at speeds of up to 128 kbps, when it was first deployed by companies (such as Pacific Bell), customers charged that installation took too long and technical support was inefficient.

Customers also said it was costly to stay online constantly to receive and send email instantly the way people do at the office. ISDN usually costs a monthly flat rate from $29 to $250 for a limited number of hours, then some charge per minute.

"If a person were connected all the time, that would get expensive," said Tom Bayless, director of switched digital services for Pacific Bell. "But email is so big for telecommuters...They need to be connected to their network."

Pac Bell and Jetstream Communication demonstrated their answer to that problem today: the "Always On" D-Channel.

Pac Bell and most other telcos, manufacturers, and ISPs who are part of the Vendors' ISDN Association will offer the D-Channel as an extra pipe that can carry low-bandwidth data such as email. Formerly, the channel was mostly used by stores that allowed point-of-sale purchases with bank or credit cards.

D-Channel is always live, allowing ISDN users to get email while doing other tasks on their PC or surfing the Net. Currently, users would have to log on each time they wanted to collect or send email or gather headlines and stock quotes pushed to them by services such as PointCast.

Jetstream produces Front Desk, a digital communications manager that uses ISDN lines to route a user's faxes, multiple phone calls, and Net traffic through one device. Front Desk will now offer software that allows for the D-Channel.

Pac Bell and Jetstream will announce a joint marketing campaign next month, the companies told CNET's NEWS.COM today. Pac Bell will help promote Front Desk's $1,000 system along with its new D-Channel service.

The D-Channel will cost Pac Bell customers an extra $5 on top of the $29.95 per month for residential customers and $33.55 a month for business users. If the company misses an ISDN installation appointment, the company will credit the customer $25 and must waive the charge entirely if it is not installed within 15 business days.

Other ISDN products aimed at telecommuters were also announced today. For instance, Big Island Communications released YoYo Professional, an ISDN digital modem that incorporates software to manage incoming data and voice calls.

Aside from allowing speedy Net access, YoYo lets telecommuters use their PC to track and screen incoming phone calls, check their voice mail, or conduct conference calls.

"Cable and ADSL are just Net surfing solutions. For telecommuting, ISDN is the best solution because you can manage your phone calls, email, and videoconferencing with one technology," said Rick Miley, CEO of Big Island.