Monday, February 16, 2009

My ISDN Journey

Earlier today, I was speaking with my pal Erik Sheppard. I mentioned that I had tried on multiple occasions to write a blog about my ISDN experiences, but hadn't thus far succeeded. I explained that my journey was so lengthy, exhausting, and borderline traumatic- that even thinking about it brought back bad memories! OK, I'm being just a tad dramatic here- but it was an interesting process! However, Erik reminded me that people might have an opportunity to learn from my journey- and we go! Instead of taking you step by step through the 6 month process of finally having working ISDN, I've decided to just list out a few things that I've learned that might make your own ISDN journey a bit easier.

First, a little of the back story...My ISDN journey began last August when my husband and I made the decision to move from Charlotte, NC to Tampa, FL. It wasn't possible for me to install ISDN in my previous studio due to location and several other factors. So, I had always used a local studio anytime I needed ISDN. However, I knew it was going to be imperative that I set up ISDN in my new studio in order to continue recording several of my regular projects. My journey began August 1st, 2008 and ended February 11th, 2009. I am thrilled to finally be able to say that I have working ISDN in my home studio and I am loving it!

Here are a few of the very valuable things learned from my own journey written with the hope that they may help your journey.

1. Before you spend a single penny, make sure you live in an area that can get ISDN. This is a very old technology that fewer and fewer companies are providing support for. We actually narrowed down our potential new homes based on which ones could get ISDN.

2. It may be necessary for you to be incorporated or an LLC. Residential ISDN is no longer provided in any area that I know of, only business ISDN. Therefore- you must be a business (and be able to prove so) to get it.

3. You are going to need to know a lot about ISDN before you even make your first call. 99% of the people you speak with at the various ISDN providers will have little to no idea what you are talking about when you say you want ISDN BRI. Why is this? Voice actors, radio, and TV stations are the only folks left in the world that use ISDN BRI (according to my contact at Verizon) therefore, there is little reason to train new employees on this technology.

4. Make sure you ask for the business ISDN BRI line and be very specific about what you need. Aren't sure exactly what you need? Then enlist a studio or ISDN expert to help you (such as Digifon). I enlisted the help of my friends at ProComm studios as well as several VO pals that really know their stuff!

5. You will need to decide what type of codec you want to use, or if Audio TX is the way you want to go. I chose to use a Telos Zephyr, as that's what I was trained on back in my radio days.

6. Should you buy a new or used codec? It's hard to say. I went the pre-owned route. I purchased a unit on Ebay after asking several questions of the seller. I originally paid $1100- a great price! However, once the codec arrived at my house I discovered it needed $600 in repairs. Yuck! Still, $1700 is a great price for an ISDN codec and it's working great now!

7. Once the line has been installed, you will need to specify a long distance carrier. Here is where things got VERY tricky for me! I went with MCI. They seemed to understand what I needed, and I was given a great rate per minute. Almost immediately, I began experiencing problems with my line dropping out. I can't explain why, but it has something to do with MCI's service. I'm not saying MCI won't work for you- it just didn't work for me. From what I was told, they no longer provide support for data lines. So- I cancelled the service and switched to Sprint. I've been good to go since!

8. Make friends with the person that installs your line, and ask for his/her phone number. A local construction crew accidentally cut my ISDN lines in the middle of one of my first sessions, and I spent 4 days waiting for my provider to find one of the very few people that know how to repair and test ISDN lines. I wrote his number down so I can call him directly in the future!

9. Along those same lines, write down the name and direct number of every competent and helpful person you come across! It's a good safety measure- as you never know when or if you may encounter problems with your lines.

10. Staying on that topic- keep your friends who have ISDN on your speed dial. When the repair tech arrived to work on my lines, my pals Bob Souer, Caryn Clark, Ben Wilson, and Philip Banks were all willing to help me test the lines. A couple of them tested with me several times over several weeks, and I honestly can't thank them enough! In fact, send me an e-mail if you need someone to test your line with you- I'm all about paying it forward!

11. Make sure to ask about all the costs associated with getting your line up and running, and what the provider charges for repairs. I was lucky that I wasn't charged for repairs (since my line was cut), but I was told they typically do. Setting up my ISDN lines cost $275. The monthly fee for me is about $70 for the line, and $5 minimum for long distance. I pay $.07-.10 per minute per line to dial out depending on whether the call is in or out of state. These rates will vary greatly city to city, so be sure to ask what you can expect to pay. You will rarely need to dial out, but it's good to know in advance what those rates will be!

12. Once your lines are working, ask some of your VO friends and studios you work with regularly to give you honest feedback on your overall sound. Philip Banks was able to pick up on a slight ring to my studio I hadn't noticed before. It was minor, but could have become major if a new studio didn't like the way it sounded! I was able to isolate and solve the problem, thanks to Philip's keen hearing! Make sure you are getting the thumbs up from people you know before seeking out new business. As voice actors, we often only get one shot to get it right- so don't waste it!

13. Finally, make sure to ask any questions you have of the codec company, line provider, etc, and keep good notes! Knowledge is indeed power, and the more you know the better your chances of success with ISDN!

I've heard so often in the last few months that ISDN is on it's way out. Perhaps, but I doubt it. If the studios that use ISDN are anything like me...I feel I've spent too much time and too much money to turn my back on ISDN now! However, finding support for ISDN is becoming more difficult- which is why it's good to prepare yourself for the journey. If there are ever any questions I can answer, I will do my best to help...or at least point you in the direction of someone who can.


Peter O'Connell said...


Well the flashbacks of the process may have been painful for you but your ISDN blog post was a good one for us readers. Thanks for taking the time.

Best always,
- Peter

Kara Edwards said...


I really appreciate your comment, thank you!


Cindy Brooks said...

I'm so glad that Erik linked to your blog on this very subject! I truly appreciate that you put it out there and gave me information that I needed at this time. I'm very much on the fence about which way to go!
Thanks again,

Christopher Flockton said...

Hi Kara -

Thanks! Many good tips.

Here in the northern burbs of NYC the ISDN thing is tricky, too. Verizon hasn't got a clue. Fortunately we've got rock solid high-speed internet, so I've used Source-Connect, with the option to bridge to ISDN, with good success.

Enjoy burning up your new ISDN. Much success!

Cheers -


Kara Edwards said...


I'm glad this information has helped! The decision to add ISDN to my studio was an easy one for me, but making it happen was way more difficult than I ever could have expected! Still, it was worth the effort and I hope it's around for many years to come!


Kara Edwards said...


Thank you for the comment! Source Connect is something else I've been looking into after having a couple of studio inquire as to whether I had it or not. Of course, after spending 6 months getting ISDN to work, the thought of trying something else new gives me hives- hah!


Heather Hogan said...

Hello - I happily stumbled across your blog and now have it bookmarked.

Thank you, thank you for your blog about ISDN. I'm relatively new to the business and have been told by a local vo that I don't need it yet - that I should focus on getting local work first and foremost.

I'm sure he's right, but finding work is proving difficult, and when I call advertisers or production houses in my area (in South Carolina), they tell me they use agencies (like Earworks) to find their voice talent... and when I call the agency, they won't work with me unless I have ISDN... so I feel like I'm caught in a loop.

THEN I speak to someone at the Radio Ranch in Los Angeles, who tells me that ISDN is on the way out. I asked what is replacing it - MP3, she tells me. I wonder to myself if she understood the question. Not helpful.

I'm still not sure if I will put in the investment into an ISDN just yet - will this technology be relative within the next 6 months? I don't know, but I'm grateful that you've given so much great advice. Thanks again.

Kara Edwards said...

Hi Heather!

I am so glad you found my blog helpful! I certainly hope ISDN isn't on it's way out in the next 6 months...I suspect it isn't. But, in the next 5-10 years? Most likely. I think more and more that Source Connect (and other IP technology) will 'replace' it eventually, especially as technology improves. But, if most studios are like me- why spend more money to replace something that works and is proven technology? Eventually it will just be too hard to get support for ISDN, and that's when the transition will happen. In the meantime, you can make a great living without it. As long as you have the ability to record quality audio and send tracks via ftp- you'll be good. Good luck!


Heather Hogan said...

Hi Kara!

Thank you for your comment. I hope you're right about being able to do this without ISDN (for now), but... er... what is ftp?

Kara Edwards said...


FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. In layman's terms, it's an area of space on a server where you can upload large files to be easily downloaded by your clients. So, say you record a large wav file for a client, and you can't simply e-mail such a large file. You can upload to ftp and the client can then save the file to their desktop. I have my own ftp server, but it isn't necessary. Look into services such as You Send It. It's free up to a certain size, and very reliable. I hope this helps!


Liz de Nesnera said...

Hey Kara!
Thanks for this GREAT blog post!
I remember well your "journey!" :-)

Well...I have JUST started my ISDN journey!

I got a great opportunity to get a pre-owned codec and figured it was a sign! Just working out the details now....after finding out that ISDN IS still available in my area of NJ! YAY!

I called Verizon and after the 4 person run-around (with the first person telling me they didn't offer ISDN anymore!) I finally got to a person who KNOWS what I'm talking about!

Like I said...I'm JUST starting the process, but it's looking promising...fingers & toes crossed!



Liz de Nesnera
Bilingual English/French VO

Kara Edwards said...


HOW EXCITING!!! Yay! Just hang in there- and be ready for a bump or two along the way...but know that once those lines are ready to go- you will LOVE having ISDN! If there is anything I can do to help- plese let me know...and if nothing else, let's make sure we do a line test together when you are ready!


Dan Nachtrab said...

Hi Kara,

I have been meaning to drop you a note of thanks for this post. I used it as my guide when moving to Portland.

Wishing you continued success,