AT&T’s first ISDN salvos may not conquer skeptics

AT&T’s first ISDN salvos may not conquer skeptics

Carol Wilson

AT&T’s first ISDN salvos may not conquer skeptics AT&T launched its first strike in the longawaited ISDN revolution last week, but it was far from a pre-emptive attack.

The telecommunications giant announced plans for the availability in 18 cities of two network services based on the integrated services digital network primary rate interface, or 23 B+D, thus “delivering on the promise of ISDN and the extraordinary benefits that technology will bring,” said Sam R. Willcoxon, president of AT&T Business Markets Group.

The two services are Info-2, or automatic number identification for incoming calls, and Call-by-Call Service Selection, which allows flexible assignment of access channels to AT&T services such as Megacom or Megacom 800. Under terms filed by AT&T with the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T will offer PRI via tis high-speed digital service, Accunet T1.5.

Industry analysts were generally underwhelmed by the AT&T offering, although some saw it as a necessary first step.

“It’s a rather tentative first step toward what ISDN will be in the future,” said Mary Johnston, senior consultant with BBN Communications. “But it’s kind of interesting. It offers a way of easing into ISDN. And it doesn’t cost a whole lot of money to get into the game.”

Gartner Group’s Jeremy Frank characterized the offering as “incredibly anticlimatic” given the hoopla over the advent of ISDN service. Particularly disappointing, said Frank, is the fact that only AT&T Megacom customers can take advantage of the new service. AT&T said it will add the ISDN-based services to its Software Defined Network service, although the company did not provide a timetable.

By finally having an ISDN service offering, AT&T will have an opportunity to answer some long-standing questions, said John Bain, senior telecommunications analyst with Shearson Lehman Hutton. “They’ll find out who wants it, and what the local exchange carriers are prepared to do to provide the local connections,” Bain said. He believes the latter question could be a major sticking point if it turns out that the local loop plant requires major reconditioning to carry high-speed digital data. “The issue is who will pay for that,” says Bain.

ATpT already offers an ISDN-compatible PBX, the System 85, and has plans to upgrade its System 75 PBX to offer ISDN PRI within the next 12 months, the company stated. Other PBX manufacturers have announced plans to offer ISDN PRI compatibility but do not yet have products on the market.

The company said it plans to continually expand its ISDN-based services, now that the ice is broken, and will next offer station identification, or SID. In addition, AT&T will add another 52 cities to the availability list for Info-2 and Call-by-Call Service Selection.

Unless the proposal runs into trouble at the FCC, AT&T will begin offering the service within 45 days in Atlanta; Baltimore; Chicago; Denver; Los Angeles; Nashville; New York; St. Louis; Seattle; Cambridge, Mass; Columbus, Ohio; Gardena, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla; Newark, N.J.; Oakland, Calif; Omaha, Neb.; Phoeniz, Ariz; and Richmond, Va.

AT&T has tested its PRI service at American Transtech, a wholly owned information management subsidiary that does extensive telemarketing work. BBN’s Johnston, who witnessed the trial, said the Info-2 service did substantially speed up handling of information requests, since the incoming caller information was automatically fed into a computer, eliminating basic information query by a telemarketing agent.

The two services offer economies of scale to large business users, Johnston says, at attractive prices. Effective use of the services will require applications software not currently available, she adds. AT&T is apparently expecting independent vendors to develop those applications as the ISDN market grows.

Coming on the heels of Illinois Bell’s filing of the first public ISDN tariffs (Telephony, April 4, page 12), the AT&T services “add some reality to ISDN,” Johnston says.” This may combat some of the skepticism about ISDN, but it won’t do it real quickly. There’s still a long way to go.”

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