ISDN: Its Successful Application for TAS Businesses

By Christine Michaels & Joy Rossin

Joy Rossin, President and General Manager of Tele-Sec Communications, Inc., is successfully utilizing ISDN in place of DID trunks for her answering service business in Florence, Alabama. Ms. Rossin was part of a panel presentation at the ATSI Convention last June in New Orleans and spoke about ISDN. Due to the subject matter and the response to Ms. Rossin’s presentation, we decided to interview her in more depth: (DID = Direct Inward Dialing. ISDN =Integrated Services Digital Network)

1) Why did you decide to use ISDN versus DID and what were the benefits of ISDN? I decided to use ISDN because the manufacturer I was with developed an ISDN system. I felt that DID had reached its peak and that there were many more options with ISDN. I personally felt that we had done everything we could with DID so I chose to use ISDN. Some of the benefits of ISDN versus DID were features such as Caller ID,2-way calls on the same line, two operators per line, and having all your answering service clients call forward to the same phone number. Plus, ISDN was a faster and more efficient way to service my customers.

The ISDN technology had been available for 8 to 10 years and the more people get ISDN, the more applications will develop. New ideas will develop and things will probably develop that we had never dreamed of. I think ISDN will be an important part of our future as an answering service industry and I think that DID will eventually go the way of the switchboards.

2) How are you using ISDN in your answering service business? ISDN is a different way of servicing your customers, thus you need a different way of thinking when you are first using it. My first re-education was in ordering phone lines. I no longer have to pay for hundreds of Call Forwarding Numbers and dozens of DID Trunks. I have approximately 300 accounts and I am only using 5 telephone lines. Thus, the price is less with the phone company. I have no switch in my office. I am utilizing the phone company’s switch! The equipment I am using is designed for ISDN. DID equipment will NOT work.

3) Can you describe how ISDN works? There are two types of ISDN available – Basic Rate and Primary Rate. What makes the type of ISDN different are the number of “B” channels (voice channels ) available per line. The Primary Rate has 23″B” channels whereas the Basic Rate has 2 “B” channels. Our business is using the Basic Rate line. Each line costs approximately$85.00/month.

In each Basic Rate line, there are two “B” channels and one “D” channel or data channel. Thus I can have two operators answer calls on one line. I have 5 lines, thus I have 10 operator positions. An operator can only talk to one person at a time. The B channels do not limit the number of calls that can come in, the B channel only limits the number of conversations at one time. The D channel or data channel is telling you who is ringing, thus giving you information about the caller. When a call comes in, we call this “call appearance.” Our ISDN equipment provides for up to 64 call appearances; all my customers call forward to the same number.

When I set up a new customer, I program the customer’s information into my system. By the way, with my ISDN equipment, I can provide personalized Auto Answer for each customer. This is a terrific feature. So, when a call comes in for my client, the information I receive comes from the phone company’s Central Office (CO). Thus, over the D (data) channel of our ISDN line, we receive the client’s phone number and the number of the person who is calling for our client. We also receive the purpose of the call, i.e., the call was forwarded to our office because there was no answer at our customer’s location, or the customer’s line was busy or, the customer’s line is always forwarded to our service. With this information, we are better able to personalize our handling of the call. We are also able to pick and choose from the phone company, what information we want sent over the trunks, i.e., name of caller, etcetera.

Call appearances programming is a terrific feature of ISDN. Call appearances can be limited or extended depending on your call traffic. Thus, I can request 10 call appearances be sent through the line and give a busy signal to the 11th call appearance. If this doesn’t work, I can call the phone company and increase the call appearances to 15. It will be done OVERNIGHT (no more waiting 4 weeks for increased DID trunks from your phone company). Or, I can call and delete the number of call appearances in the same amount of time. Thus it is much easier to control the call volume traffic.

If I have high volume accounts, I can request a different set of call appearance numbers from the phone company. I can limit the call appearances to 4 or 6 or any number which would control the number of calls coming in on a busy night and not overwhelm the other callers while providing good service for my other customers. Thus, I am not limited by one DID number.

4) What equipment is needed from a manufacturer and the phone company to provide ISDN? You must have ISDN equipment as DID equipment will not work. I am currently using Morgan Comtec, Inc. equipment and have been utilizing the ISDN since September of 1996. I paid less for my ISDN system in September then I did for my DID system 13 years ago because this system has less hardwire/ trunks and does not have a switch. The equipment is more software-based rather than hardware-based. I think manufacturers have a lot of catching up to do with ISDN.

What is important is knowing what equipment your phone company has. You are limited by the switch at your CO and its capabilities. Some well-known switches are AT&T, Siemens, and Northern Telecom. It’s important to find out what equipment your phone company has.

The ISDN application is limited only by our imaginations. Each business that uses ISDN will come up with new ideas on how to use it. The beauty of ISDN is that it’s mostly software, thus programmers can do what you want without the expensive costs of a hardware change. One can combine a lot of things with software, but with hardware you can’t.

5) What are some drawbacks with ISDN? From my Central Office there is no Music On Hold. When my CO gets Music On Hold, I will get it. Prior to signing up a customer, you must find out if their CO has SS-7 signaling to be able to offer ISDN service. There are also some cell phone calls that cannot be accepted. If that is the case, I will assign them a remote call-forwarding number.

6) How reliable is ISDN? ISDN is as reliable as your Central Office. If the CO is down, then everyone is down. They are extremely reliable lines. This is one of their main benefits.

7) In your opinion, how can ISDN benefit the answering service industry? Answering services as an industry should find out what technology is currently available. It is not the phone company’s responsibility to educate the answering service industry. Phone companies do not want to reinvent DID, which is why they were slow in making 2-way DID lines. That function already exists with ISDN. Besides, the answering service industry is a small portion of the phone company’s revenue and it’s not worth it for them to change the DID line. Why bother when the technology already exists! The more businesses that utilize ISDN, the more applications will be developed. I am certainly not sorry that I made the move to ISDN.

I think that in the next few years, even more features will be offered on ISDN. Plus, the simple fact is that your customers want good service that is fast and efficient. The more technical everything is becoming, the more the demand will exist for personalized service. ISDN is that and more.

[From Connection Magazine, September 1997]

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