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ISDN: A Love-Hate Relationship by Dave Immer


Early ISDN in North America was difficult to cozy up to because its versatility required so many configuration choices to be made by the phone company as well as the end user. This required a high level of technical cooperation between the two – a relationship that was strained from the beginning and remains so today. We hate this.

Frustration was a constant risk in this arrangement which gave rise to cynical variations on the meaning of the ISDN acronym:

ISDN - It Still Does Nothing
ISDN - I’m Spending Dollars Now
ISDN - Incredibly Sophisticated Digital Nightmare  (my personal favorite)

But the rewards for getting it to work right gave people the incentive to forge ahead. Two decades ago, when it was new, ISDN promised a blazing-fast (128kbs!) network connection to the internet, graphics output bureaus and video-conferencing services as well as pro-audio users such as production facilities and broadcasters. 

With the help of a technical working group, ISDN ordering codes were developed that greatly simplified the process. With a simple letter code like M or S you could specify the entire programming setup. We love this.

Let me know if you have any other alternate “meanings” of the ISDN acronym.

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