isdnLike a growing cadre of industry experts, Connie Henry knows what it takes to get integrated services digital network (ISDN) hooked up in an office. Henry coordinates telephone companies’ installation of digital phone line service for Jetstream Communications’s customers. ISDN has become the high- speed Internet access of choice for business owners fed up with waiting hours to download graphics- heavy Web pages. It also allows products such as Jetstream’s Front Desk to provide the same top-quality telephone-handling features that you thought were only available to big business.

But getting an ISDN line up and running is not as easy as adding a second telephone line. The horror stories you’ve read and heard about the service are true. ISDN-speak includes an entirely new vocabulary, from switch type and version to NI-1 signaling and D-channel packets. You call to place an order for the service and phone company representatives don’t know how to spell ISDN. Worst of all is struggling to set up your ISDN terminal adapter, which is commonly known as a digital modem, and getting it to work with your new service.

“Telephone companies are learning about ISDN,” says Henry. “I’m learning about ISDN. It’s complicated. because of the programming involved at the teleph one company. One mistake and the line won’t work. Through trial and error we’re now having more success.”

And because customer service representatives are becoming more experienced, horror stories are starting to have happier endings. Henry says that GTE, Pacific Bell, and Bell Canada generally shine at hassle-free installations, though there are still trouble spots. But to ensure proper installation, we asked Henry and other experts for their secrets to getting ISDN up and working for you.

Secret #1 Microsoft, which has a vested interest in improving your Internet experience, created a Web site to make it easy to find out if ISDN is available in your area. When you visit, you can follow a simple, step-by-step interview that tells you if you’re in luck and gives you pricing information for most major telephone companies’ service. The Microsoft Web site will also let you place the order, and it forwards a set of specifications to your phone company. Microsoft itself doesn’t get involved–it simply acts as an interpreter that translates your needs into specifications stated in a language that the phone company’s installation wizards can understand.

Secret #2 If you’re a do-it-yourselfer, buy Motorola’s BitSURFR Pro modem or an Express XRT model from Adtran. Our experts feel that Motorola’s user’s guide has extensive setup specifications for helping you place the right order. Its setup program makes the modem incredibly easy to initialize once your service is installed. Adtran’s user guide provides ordering codes and its technical support staff stands ready to help you solve problems.

Secret #3 Companies such as 3Com go beyond improving setup and manuals. 3Com also went beyond Microsoft’s self-guided Web page. The company offers its customers a special toll-free installation line. When you call the number, a 3Com representative takes your information and contacts your telephone company to guarantee that its 3ComImpactlQ External ISDN modem will work with your ISDN service. The company is so confident it even provides a money-back guarantee that you will be able to install and configure its modem in 15 minutes. Although you must still pay for installation of tile ISDN line and all subsequent charges, the 3Com service is free.

Secret #4 Your Internet service provider (ISP) can be an indispensable source of help. For example, Northwest Nexus, the local Puget Sound ISP , will put you in touch with its GTE or US West representatives. Nationwide ISP EarthLink has launched a new one-stop ISDN shopping service.

“EarthLink provides our customers with a single point of contact,” according to Julie Mantis, vice president of sales for the EarthLink Network. The company’s representatives handle everything “from ordering the line, setting up the order with the phone company, and providing ISDN modems, all the way through to explaining how to use high-speed Internet access.” EarthLink also sells equipment tested and certified by its ISDN Compatibility Labs so that you can be assured it all works properly with EarthLink’s service.

Secret #5 Even if you live in the land of easy installation, which includes California and Canada, follow your phone company’s directions and offerings explicitly. Pacific Bell offers the $329 Home Pack, which includes the 3ComImpact IQ external ISDN modem, a training video and CD-ROM, a user’s guide, a copy of Netscape Navigator, and the ISDN service. Like EarthLink, the Baby Bell has tested the products to ensure they work with its service.

Use these secrets to ensure that ISDN gets up and running, and you’ll add lightning speed to much of your daily work.

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