Over the last five or six years ISDN has become increasingly difficult to get, especially in newer residential areas. Telcom companies like Verizon and AT&T want to reduce their use of copper lines and dedicated switches in favor of IP based solutions (FiOS, U-Verse). Several years ago I built a new home which included a custom, purpose built studio. When I went to move my service I was informed my area was 100% fiber optic and that ISDN could not function and would not be installed. I fought with Verizon for over 10 months before it was apparent that it simply wasn’t going to happen.
This brings me to the point - what’s next? When will TV networks like FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc give up on ISDN and what are their options? I have been waiting on this change. What was my solution in the mean time? I have a friend across town who still has ISDN service so I built a bridge/server solution between our networks. I installed a Tieline BridgeIT in my studio and in his I installed another BridgeIT and a server which would give me access to the web interface of the Telos Zephyr for connecting/disconnecting, changing codecs, etc. My clients dial into an ISDN - it’s at his facility, routes to the Tieline which sends an uncompressed raw stream to my studio. The latency is negligible and the client is none-the-wiser, nor do they care as long as it works.
But what happens when ISDN is gone? They could connect directly to me via the Tieline but that would require them to buy new hardware and that won’t happen unless most of their voice talent are no longer able to be access via ISDN. Verizon, do us a favor and just turn ISDN off all together so we can move on already.
Telos makes a unit called the Zephyr IP which does a good job at traversing network firewalls and all that but there is the unknown area of networks between the client and the buyer. This is the whole reason IP hasn’t taken off yet for voice sessions. I’ll briefly explain the difference here…
ISDN works at a fixed data rate. Each SPID (line) has a constant rate of 64Kbps. Combine both lines and you have 128Kbps. That rate does not change and therefore the time it takes to get from studio to talent and back is a measurable constant. When you get into IP connections like the Tieline and the Zephyr IP you use the internet which, as you know, fluctuates in latency all the time. A site may load fast for someone at 3pm and slow at 6:15pm. Also, the distance between two points makes a difference. The latency between Tampa and Miami is less than it is between New York and Los Angeles. Also the latency between two locations on the same network (say two places both serviced by Verizon FiOS) versus two locations on different networks. This makes the delay very difficult to calculate and nearly impossible to keep constant. It also depends on the speed of the individual studio or talent. If you’re working from home in the summer, doing a session over IP and your wife or kids or room mate decides to start streaming a netflix movie, your piece of the bandwidth just got reduced and your latency (delay) just went up.
Why does this matter? Well many networks produce their promo first, leaving holes for the VO. Then they play that spot down the line and the talent reads along with it to fit their lines into the holes. When they do, the network is recording the talents VO into those holes on their end. When you have such a varying delay it’s hard to time that all out without some serious nudging and editing. I understand the headache but we are being forced to go this route so can we just get on with it?
More studios should adopt IP - at least have the option. I worked with studios who didn’t even have ethernet in their control room. They literally recorded the ISDN feed to DAT and then walked it down to the edit bay where it was recorded back in. I mean WHAT?? Talk about antiquated. It’s like me typing this blog, printing it out, faxing it to someone so they can re-type it and post it online.
Anyway… if you want to check out the technologies available in a post ISDN world, here are some links. And for the record, if you own a Telos Zephyr XStream you have IP capability built in, you just need to plug your box into your network. It’s not as intuitive at compensating for latency and firewalls as the Zephyr IP but it may work in a pinch.
Tieline Bridge IT: http://tieline.com/products/G5/Bridge-IT
This is a very cost effective audio over IP solution.
Telos Zephyr IP One: http://telos-systems.com/zip-one/
This will likely replace the Zephyr Xstream in most studios eventually.
Musicam Suprima: http://musicamusa.com/index1.htm
This is another option for audio over IP and functions similarly to the Zephyr IP One. The difference is that Suprima also offers ISDN and POTS in the same unit.
AEQ Phoenix Venus: http://www.aeq.eu/products/phoenix-venus
Again similar to units above. I’d say it’s most similar to the Bridge IT. Many of these were designed for STL (sending program material from the radio station to the transmitter location for broadcast) so they are well versed in maintaining a solid connection through rough network conditions.
If I missed anything let me know in the comments below. Also if you have found a solution that works great for you, share it below.