NU to remove ISDN Internet connection

Becky Bowman

At the end of Spring Quarter, Northwestern will remove the Integrated Services Digital Network just five years after its installation as a superior pathway to the Internet.

ISDN’s short life span reflects the difficulty of keeping up with today’s technological developments, a challenge faced by NU and consumers everywhere.

Few people will be affected by ISDN’s removal because it became outdated so quickly that it is hardly used at all now, said Thomas Board, director of Technology Support Services.

Although ISDN is faster than dial-up modems, it is also pricier, so it was intended for faculty use. Now, digital subscriber loops and cable modems, options that are both faster and less expensive, have made ISDN obsolete, said Board, Weinberg ’73 and McCormick ’79.

“Newer technologies are far superior,” said Board, who made the decision to end the ISDN service last year. NUIT stopped taking new subscribers to the service in January 2000.

Originally offered by Northwestern University Information Technology in 1996, the ISDN was intended to create faster Internet access for off-campus computers.

Board said off-campus students generally connect to the Internet through dial-up modems, while the faster, more expensive ISDN mostly was used by faculty.

“It never really was much of a student service,” said David Oppenheim, a Music and McCormick senior and a senior residential networking consultant.

Digital subscriber line and cable-modem technologies developed around the same time but became available to the market later, said Donald Brazeal, who worked for an Internet start-up before pursuing his doctorate at the University of Maryland.

“The technologies themselves are fairly old. It’s just that they were not available commercially,” Brazeal said.

ISDN at NU is a service of Ameritech, the Evanston area’s major telephone service provider.

Ameritech offers the ISDN service, and NU offers a modem service from the campus for users to access the server. To access the server, users pay about $30 to Ameritech for the product and about $30 to use the NU modem service. Board compared the set-up with a dial-up user working through a company such as America Online.

“It’s basically the same kind of financial model,” Board said.

Ameritech’s Web site calls ISDN “the perfect solution for small and mid-sized businesses that need more than basic Internet access but aren’t ready for dedicated service.”

ISDN access averages speeds of 128 kilobytes per second, Board said. Dial-up modems average speeds of 56 kilobytes per second. DSL and cable modems reach speeds of one and a half to two megabytes per second, about 20 to 40 times faster than dial-up modems, Board said.

Before NU banned Napster, Oppenheim said, DSL lines sometimes seemed faster than ethernet.

But now none of the off-campus pathways approach the speed of the on-campus ethernet, Oppenheim said. The speed of ethernet, Board said, approaches 10 megabytes per second, five to 10 times faster than DSL and cable modems.

Board also said, however, that DSL and cable modems would be the closest off-campus students could get to the quick ethernet service.