September 10th, 1996
Measuring and Monitoring Web Sites

09/10/96 RMIUG Meeting Minutes - Measuring and Monitoring Web Sites

The September 10, 1996 meeting presented "Everything you always wanted to know about ISDN ... but were afraid to Ask" Approximately 140 people were in attendance, with Dan Murray MC'ing, and Alek Komarnitsky taking the minutes. Thank you to Michael Rabb who help arranged our speakers for this meeting.

Dan started meeting at 7:00 sharp. He reminded folks that our next/October meeting will be on the 3rd Tuesday (October 15th) due to scheduling issues with the room. Our November meeting will feature a selection of Internet Service Providers (ISP's) who will give RMIUG'ers a taste of what is out there. We are limiting our panel to 8 ISP's, and this will be first-come, first-serve.

Dan passed the hat requesting donations from the audience to cover the room rental fee and cost of copies; we didn't pass it last month, but got charged, so he asked folks to dig deep! ;-) The farthest distance people came was from Fort Collins, and they got a free mouse pad courtesy of Peak Computing; who also supplied some free copies of the Colorado Internet Business Directory for attendees.

A survey of the audience showed that most people heard about the meeting via Email from being on the rmiug-announce Email list. A handful of folks saw the Denver Post blurb, from friends, and other stuff. Only about 10 folks actually had a working (! ;-) ISDN line ... but about 50 or so raised their hands when asked if they were thinking about getting one for home/work. Vast majority of folks use 28.8 modems for access ... and interestingly enough, only a very few use the higher speed 33.6 modems (although announcements this week from Rockwell/US Robotics implying 56 KBit modems is interesting).

Everyone has heard horror stories about ISDN ... some are dying to get it and wonder what it is. Dan presented his "top-ten Letterman" list of what ISDN stood for - some of these were: "Information Superhighway Delivered Now", "I'm Spending Dollars Now" , "It Simply Does Nothing"

There were a variety of announcements from the floor:

  • Lance Jones from CCG Online said they have positions open for WWW Sales, Programmers, and Graphics Artists. For more information, pls contact Mark Richtermeyer (mark@ccgonline.com).

  • Dave Roland (dsr@roland.com, 930-9828) said he was very experienced in ISDN (sits on several ISDN committees) and is rolling out product called "SOHO-net" that is geared toward small businesses; focusing on C-470/Tech Center area, but hopes to go national in mid-November.

  • Rocky Mountain Internet Expo (972-8980, http://www.inthenow.com/expo) is the "region's premier Internet conference" and is scheduled for October 18-19th at the Colorado Convention Center.

  • Terry Freeman (tfreeman@rmii.com, 691-0404) with the Internet Chamber of Commerce announced their September 25th meeting at the Regency Hotel (I-25 and West 38th) which will be free and open to public. It will feature a panel of ISP's and include vendor exhibits.

  • Michael Rabb (mrabb@indra.com) is interested in starting an ISDN users' group and passed around a sign-up sheet; contact him if you are interested. You can get a free issue of Computer Telephony with an article on ISDN stuff by emailing "nick@paoffice.mhs.compuserve.com" and mentioning Michael's name.

  • Laura Austin-Eurich (laepeak@usa.net) is the editor of Peak Computing (http://www.peak-computing.com) and is doing a reader survey on "best of Colorado" and is also quite open to generic feedback. They offer free classifieds for 4 weeks of your Web Page URL.

We then moved to the main part of the presentation.

The first speaker was Alicia Chalmers (achalme@uswest.com) who is the !nterprise ISDN Product Manager for US West Communications. She has been working with ISDN for 8 years, mostly in a technical capacity.

ISDN actually stands for "Integrated Services Digital Network" ... basically makes the "last mile" truly digital and support a worldwide protocol set that supports both voice and data. ISDN BRI (Basic Rate Interface) is a 160 KBit/sec channel which basically has 144 KBPS available to the user via 2 Bearer (B) channels at 64KBPS (each with their own phone number) and 1 D (Delta) channel at 16 KBPS for signaling purposes. ISDN PRI (Primary Rate Interface) delivers 1.544 MBPS with 23B and 1 D channel available and delivered over a T-1 line.

Current BRI pricing is $67 to install, $60/month, $6 CALC (fed tax?)/month, and possibly a one-time charge of $25.50 if your loop requires qualifying. ISDN PRI is $3,512 to install, and $2,179/month ... although that drops to $2,156 if you sign up for three years, and $2,139 if you sign up for five years. There are plans to implement time/usage based pricing soon. All of this pricing is controlled by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

A big issue is if your area is ISDN capable. It's not offered in all areas (see http://www.uswest.com for a map showing availability areas or call 1-800-PATHWAY - most heavy population areas are covered). In addition, the "rules" are that you must be within 18,000 feet of a central office (decibel loss is the true determining factor ... but 18,000 feet is what is currently used). Finally, there's an issue if the copper wire in your house/office is "good" enough to support ISDN ... old houses may have problems and/or wiring that has been split many times.

US West's service problems are well-known ... but they feel they are getting a handle on these issues. Reason for backlog is that demand has exceeded what service center can handle ... normal turn-time is 60-90 days and a big reason for this is that the database of local loops (and if they are qualified) isn't quite right ... but it is getting better.

One audience member told a story where they said a technician came out, said it was loop qualified, but then central office was limited ... so wait until 1997. US West is working on internal Web Service that will eventually go external so that customers can check it out themselves to see the Scoop. Alicia closed her presentation by using ISDN to show www.uswest.com.

Our next speaker was Darryl Watson (dwatson@abwam.com) who, as the president of ABWAM (a local ISP), discussed things from an ISP perspective. He is strong believer in ISDN and actually believes it makes for a much better standard voice connection that analog phone lines (except you need power or battery in the phone itself). But it does not offer easy configuration (yet) and is not quite interoperable 'cause standards aren't quite there. It's also more than you think ... 'cause in addition to $70/month to the phone company, you have to pay the ISP for the Internet feed. In addition, installation issues, such as loop qualification, are often far from a no-brainer.

Darryl emphasized that the speed of the line is only one factor in throughput. While ISDN gives you a faster pipe, other contention points are slow links at your ISP (not enough upstream capacity - 8 ISDN circuits will fill a T-1), Internet slowness in general, slowness that the remote WWW site, and connection between the ISDN modem and your PC (serial is worse, dedicated card is better (ISA is slow), and Ethernet connection is probably best). Note that with the last setup, the ISDN line goes into a box/router which then has an Ethernet connection that several PC's can be connected to. Darryl did a real-time download of a 1Mbyte file in about 60 seconds, which yielded ~150KBPS ... but he says with compression, you my see bursts of 512KBPS. BTW, "ISDN modem" is a misnomer, it's not a modem, but everyone says this, so it's OK ... although a more correct term is a TAP or terminal adapter. These typically cost $500-$1000 ... and Darryl highly recommends the Ethernet connection type.

Darryl talked a bit about Dial-on-demand which opens up connection as required. This is pretty cool ... and is general transparent to the user. Basically, the modem/line are idle until someone requests something that requires an external connection. It automatically makes a connection (typically in 5-10 seconds) and starts transferring data. After some user-configurable time of no activity, the line is dropped, and awaits future work. This can dramatically reduce your on-line time. This is not necessarily bi-directional (i.e. someone tries to connect to your site), but a few ISP's do offer that. ABWAM sells unlimited ISDN access for $225/month ... most of that is eaten up in US West costs and infrastructure to support things. The do offer a reduced-rate plan that is $60/month for 30 hours (may soon be bumped to 40 hours).

ISDN is ideally suited for small workgroups/LANs and is also cool 'cause it pretty tough against line noise, reliability is good, and you are pretty much guaranteed the full bandwidth. It also allows you to juggle lots of phone lines ... eight come into house ... only two active at a time ... but can do some cool stuff in terms of making things look like a PBX.

Darryl concluded his presentation by showing a real-time demonstration of the dial-on-demand and how fast the connection setup time is ... and how fast downloading of data is.

Michael Rabb (mrabb@indra.com - who helped put together meeting - thank you!) represented the User perspective. Has been involved in Telcom management and voice processing systems for ~15 years and is the president of US VOICE. He's quite excited about the data capabilities of ISDN ... but says that most people overlook the cool voice/FAX/line sharing features that ISDN provides for you.

He just started using ISDN a several months ago - they wanted a home office that had single ISDN line with phone/FAX/data hooked up to it. First you need to get Loop Qualified ... took several weeks, but this is getting better as US West's database is improved. You then need to actually order it - took 'em 5 months to get it ... but they are in the boonies, so this is worse than normal (5 miles from central office, so needed repeater installed). Overall, they are really happy with it ... and have the 2 B channels allows fairly seamless access of 2 of the three devices (voice, FAX, data). One cool feature if that the data portion will use both channels if available to double throughput - but if an incoming FAX/voice call comes in, it will automatically release one of the channels (cutting the data rate in half), but allow the call.

Michael polled the audience ... and of the ten people actually using ISDN, only three are using voice in addition to data. He said it's important when you talk to US West to tell them what you are going to hook up ... and if you "add" stuff later, you need to contact US West ... takes around a month and half (getting better) for them to add SPIDS (Service Profile Identifier; basically a phone number) to your line. BTW, he warned folks to make sure they aren't paying for extra SPIDS on your ISDN line ... and US West makes mistakes here ... but they are getting smarter about how to handle ISDN in general.

Note that you must have digital phone to plug directly into ISDN ('cause it is digital!), but to plug in Fax's, etc. you need to have a Terminal Adapter to convert to POTS (analog phone line). House wiring is an issue ... especially if old stuff ... want nice clean Cat-5 wiring if at all possible.

ISDN hookup to an ISP is a bit of a challenge ... only 4-5 ISP's offer dial-up dynamic 128 KBit/sec ISDN access on their side. Nice to have TCP/IP built-in capability with Windows95. Dial-on demand is cool because it automatically connects/disconnects. He emphasized that ISDN basically allows you to have a mini-hunt group PBX like setup at your home office.

The whole panel then came up for some question & answer

In response to a question about pricing, US West said they are looking at other plans such as a $40/month base, plus 2/3 cents/minute for outgoing only calls. $70/month capped at 200 hours/month. And $200/month for unlimited service. When you open up an ISDN line, you are grabbing a circuit ... there one case where person had ISDN line up for 52 days. Tariff's have been filed in Wash DC ... but not at state level yet.

There was a spirited discussion about why ISDN is apparently cheaper in other parts of the country. US West said some of this is because PUC's have not allowed legit price increases. Also, the geographically disparate territory of US West (with low population density) makes infrastructure costs higher. They currently do state-wide averaging ... so basically Denver folks are paying a bit more to subsidize people in the boonies (ala Universal Service). One audience member said that there is some data that shows once the infrastructure costs are taken care of, ISDN may be cheaper than POTS.

Alicia said that US West will allow reselling of ISDN. Darryl said that ISP's like to work with US West, but they'll do whatever necessary for their customers/business ... which includes possibly working with other phone companies. One interesting audience comment discussed the ability of the ISP to offer dial-back service ... since ISDN is charged per minute when you initiate the call, but not when you receive a call.

The panelists all agree that ISDN has great voice capability ... so it adds some capability that ADSL and/or Cable Modems (emerging technology for even higher speed data connections) don't have. The panel closed by reminding the folks out there that the everything comes down to $$$ ... and how people use ISDN will affect how it's offered, how fast it's rolled out, and the pricing.

Some helpful URL's for information are:
http://www.alumni.caltech.edu/~dank/isdn/ (general/techincal info on ISDN)
http://www.uswest.com (US West Home Page)
comp.dcom.isdn (ISDN newsgroup)

Upcoming RMIUG Meetings (tentative listing and schedule, subject to change):
  • Oct. 15 (NB: 3rd Tues.) - Eagle River Interactive presentation on Internet Industry Trends and Interactive Solutions
  • Nov 12 Annual ISP-Fest Panel Discussion
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