Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

What Will it Take for ISDN to Die?


By Stephanie Ciccarelli

October 28, 2010

Comments (34)

Blue cables, ISDNIn the opinion of many, a technology called Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is living on borrowed time.

Although ISDN is still the preference of many producers and studios, the writing is on the wall and it's only a matter of time before everyone is forced to look at alternative methods to replace it.

What do you think?

Join in the conversation here on VOX Daily and have your say!

Is ISDN Still Relevant?

This is the topic that doesn't seem to want to die! I'm sure that there will be a great number of opinions, feelings and responses to this post and I'm eager to see where we as a community are going with this discussion.

An ISDN line is considerably pricey. With installation and maintenance services for ISDN being discontinued by many telecom service providers, the shift to other digital technologies such as Source-Connect is inevitable.

In a new Facebook group called Voiceover Central, a discussion is going on about this very topic. I added my two cents and was also inspired to continue the conversation via VOX Daily with all of you.

Well, How 'Bout It?

ISDN is still king in terms of certain kinds of voice over recordings for a particular segment of clientele. The technology has served as a bridge from one studio to another, sometimes connecting three locations at once.

Where does ISDN still reign supreme? Generally in areas such as promo, commercials, and movie trailers. Much of the upper echelon of voice over work still requires access to ISDN.

ISDN can also be a preference due to geography.

Dutch voice over talent Paul Strikwerda, based in the United States of America, shared, "...ISDN is alive and well. In fact, last week I did an ISDN session with studios in Germany and Italy. And ISDN was their preference."

That being the case, ISDN users shouldn't get too comfy with the notion that it will be around as long as producers still want to use it. For instance, what happens if ISDN is no longer provided or supported?

An Endangered Technology

George Washington III remarked, "ISDN will still be around because studios and radio stations still need it. But, the expertise on installing and repairing it is going away. I believe it will not go away because people don't want it: it will go away when the large telcos decide it is not worth the effort to continue it."

After reading through all of the comments, I second what George said. The technology will either no longer be available or ISDN will become so rare that the industry will need to adopt alternative options such as Source Connect. This adoption will not just be an another option but the primary means of running sessions that were formerly completed via ISDN.

Just try in today's world to get an ISDN line hooked up at a home recording studio in the middle of nowhere. Not only is it difficult and expensive to acquire, it also may not be offered to you as an option, period. Just ask Frank James Bailey. He's facing this reality right now which triggered the entire discussion via Voiceover Central.

To part, I have some words of wisdom from Dan Hurst, who writes, "I would caution Voice Talents to not try to outguess the technology. Obviously, we're not the ones that are going to decide where and when the technology shifts. I get amused at us talking like we're trying to decide which technology we're all going to start using and when."

What Do You Think?

Given the evidence on the table, what are your thoughts? We'd love to hear from you.

Best wishes,


©iStockphoto.com/Krzysztof Kwiatkowski

Related Topics: audio, digital, German, industry, ISDN, radio, reading, recording, software, Source Connect, United States, voiceovers


    Hi Stephanie!

    I think that ISDN technologies will be replaced by Source Connect or similar solutions based upon a regular internet connection.
    In my case (I work and live in Southamerica) the ISDN access is very very expensive and rare.

    Posted by:

      I know that as technology changes we must change with it. But I've had isdn in my home studio (first near Portland Or and now near Sacramento, CA) and love it! The Telos Zephyr has paid for itself many times over. Rarely has there been any issues when using it. I keep hearing these scary stories about Source Connect not being rock solid technically and until it is as dependable as ISDN, and enough people have, I probably wont mess with it.

      There were some install issues with the local telco company both times I had it installed. Seems very few few people at the fone company know what isdn is...but once you get the local expert the install went smoothly! Here near Sacramento we pay about $50 a month for our isdn service.

      Posted by:

        Here in the UK, ISDN isn't going anywhere for the next few years. With radio stations merging to keep above water, they rely on ISDN and do not seem to be interested in forking out even more money on new technology. And who can blame them. I have swayed between the two for my new studio, and more inclined to go with source connect, as one day we will have to and don't really want to payout alot of money again for it, when ISDN is so expensive to install. Source Connect does have a facility to bridge to ISDN, but again it is an additional cost each time and the company seem to be exploiting that fact. If Source Connect want us to move to them, then they should be offering a cheaper option to bridge between ISDN users. I would then go with Source Connect. Then as an artist you would not feel pulled between the two.

        The other angle on this is that people don't want to have to learn and work a new system, as this day and age, "there's never enough time"

        I as an artist I have to give my clients what they want :-)

        Look forward to hearing all the views on this and have clarity from top producers

        It seems to be the radio producers that will decide on this.

        Posted by:

          The natural evolution of an ISDN replacement will probably happen within the next 5 to 10 years. I predict that with increased bandwidth new technologies will make themselves available. Maybe it will be Source Connect or something better to take advantage of increased net speeds and reliability plus be cost effective. That technology may one day surpass ISDN. That works for me since ISDN is not currently in my business plan.

          Posted by:

            ISDN will be around as long as there is enough demand to support its operations and support. Is it a superior functional solution than DSL? Of course. But as DSL network speed and consistency improve, the cost differential will prove too high to make ISDN a viable alternative. As always, it's all about the money. ~fss

            Posted by:
            • Fred Symington
            • October 28, 2010 2:59 PM

              I'm the same as Gonzalez, where I live (Canary Islands) ISDN is enormously expensive, and I've yet to find a studio here that has a permanent ISDN line.

              But at least we do have 10mb internet connection now. So I will be quite happy if it gets replaced by source connect or something similar very soon.

              Posted by:
              • VOX Daily Reader
              • October 29, 2010 8:39 AM

                I'm a bit too new to the biz to afford ISDN in my remote town, so thanks for the alert! My query: SKYPE is not quite hif-fi, and is of course mono, but it is getting better and I want to repeat a question I haven't heard answered so far: has anyone used it to transfer an audio file, or even more usefully a live read, and got a printable result?


                Howard Ellison

                Posted by:
                • Howard Ellison
                • October 29, 2010 10:34 AM

                  As a long time techno geek, I have worked on ISDN and general Internet equipment.

                  The biggest difference between the two is consistent time latency performance. The round trip time on an ISDN connect is highly consistent and usually fairly low compared to an Internet connection. If the latency does vary, it is usually, almost always, directly related to a problem that can be corrected.

                  An Internet connection, the latency can vary, sometimes wildly, for no apparent reason. While latency time and variability has gotten both lower and more consistent, it can still spike in either case without reason or warning.

                  Why is this a problem? Any kind of instability will result in a flawed audio stream that can result in stutter, pauses and other problems. Need I say more?

                  Until there are services that can meet the latency performance of ISDN, the odds are poor ISDN will go away...unless the telcos just stop providing it. :)


                  Posted by:
                  • John G. Thompson
                  • October 29, 2010 10:56 AM

                    Thanks so much for this article. Membership at Voiceover Central has just skyrocketed, thanks to you. :)
                    Your friend,
                    Dan Bailey

                    Posted by:

                      In my opinion... the internet is where it's at. Right now there are programs like Source Connect and Skype... in the future, and probably not too far off... someone will develope a seemless internet driven program that will be good for not only remote direction... but remote recording. It's just the way things are going. Software... and not hardware is the future. That is of course my opinion. Maybe I'm a lunatic. :)

                      Posted by:

                        I agree with Posy Brewer: ISDN isn't going anywhere for a while. Not in the UK, anyway. What we have to remember is that for every small voiceover user with two ISDN lines (ISDN 2e), there are many business with multiple ISDN lines into their PBX systems (ISDN 30).

                        ISDN makes a lot of "feature-phone" stuff possible, and until everyone is ready to move to IP telephony (which is still unstable and less reliable) the ISDN infrastructure at a telco like BT isn't going anywhere fast.

                        In short, I think we're safe for a while yet.

                        Posted by:

                          Until a technology comes along that can offer ALL of what ISDN does to producers and studios (not to mention, radio), it will remain the de facto VO technology of choice, especially for the high-end gigs. If you don't have an ISDN set-up in your home studio, you automatically exclude yourself from a large, and very profitable, segment of the VO world. I currently have a number of national projects that I wouldn't be voicing if I didn't have my Telos Zephyr Xtreme.
                          That said, the more options you can offer a potential producer/studio to deliver your voice to them, the better! Source Connect, Phone Patch, FTP, etc all have their place in your arsenal. The more of these available to you, the more valuable you are to potential clients. Trying to guess when, or even if, a technology is going to die is a waste of time. The market will determine that for you. Know what the current tools of the trade are and have as many of them as you can possibly afford in your tool box. For the foreseeable future, ISDN should definitely be one of them.

                          Posted by:

                            Just popping back on this theme. Skype acts as a relatively hi-fi telephone, better than phonepatch, so a producer can hear you clearly in real time, even if apparently nobody in VO uses it for actual audio transfer. It's well worth dedicating a separate computer to Skype so you can be sure not to get funny noises on your tracks, or those spontaneous adjustments of level!
                            I'm using a small cheap laptop pc (argghh, I'm a Mac man!) for Skype, with the incoming audio routed to headphones so I hear it but the main recorder never does. As for ISDN... I live and work in an English town celebrated for its historic fishing industry rather than electronic sophistication. Healthy we are. Wired we are not.

                            Posted by:

                              I live and work in the middle of what is supposed to be a highly wired area, but our telco cannot and will not provide ISDN (actually, just asking CS for it prompts a long silence and a "what is that?"). So, while I might want to get ISDN, it ain't in the cards and I suspect that our telephony provider will likely drop it fairly soon.

                              At least we have a reasonably decent internet connection (no, our telco also cannot provide DSL even though our area is wired for it) and thus, if it became an issue, I'd probably try for SourceConnect.

                              Posted by:
                              • ccpetersen
                              • January 18, 2011 3:22 PM

                                Just the installed base of ISDN in radio & TV will keep this alive for several more years. Even Telos is pushing for alt methods of audio delivery but ISDN is hangin' in there. Our studio provides ISDN to local VO folks as well as for our own client's projects and has more than paid for itself plus covers the $60+ monthly phone charges. It is rock solid when our internet is not.

                                Tim Keenan/Creative Media Recording

                                Posted by:

                                  I use Skype. With Skype you can hear exactly what's going on in real-time, record what's going on in real-time and even patch the call into another recorder to get better quality.

                                  It blows my mind that with all the other options that are available which are CHEAPER (or even FREE) that we are still using the dinosaur (and expensive) method of ISDN. All other methods can record and connect directly with studios. Basically, anyone who has an internet connection can get and record from anyone in the world.

                                  Posted by:
                                  • Morgan
                                  • July 10, 2011 2:01 PM

                                    Really, wouldn't basic phone patch offer the same thing? I plug my iPhone (used to be Droid) into the mixer with a cheap cable from Radio Shack. I can do direct dial or Skype from it. Shoot, if you have high speed internet, Skype runs on the computer as well. Am I missing what the advantage of ISDN really is?

                                    Posted by:

                                      I use Skype rather than ISDN lines.

                                      Posted by:

                                        IP to IP codecs all around. If you have internet, you have a source for establishing a working link. I am surprised ISDN is still allowed to survive overthere! Here on the mainland ISDN is a relic, and IP-codecs used all over the place.

                                        Posted by:
                                        • Jesper Giovanni Lundgreen
                                        • July 14, 2011 3:59 PM

                                          Here in the Detroit area the only ones I know that still use ISDN are municipal communication between jails to the judge.

                                          Posted by:
                                          • Don Couture
                                          • July 14, 2011 4:01 PM

                                            Phone patch is only for direction not live sessions. Source Connect is the way to go. I Sure Don't No.

                                            Posted by:
                                            • David Kaplan
                                            • July 14, 2011 4:01 PM

                                              It's SLOW, it's ANCIENT, it's NOT LOSSLESS DATA,....in other words, JOIN THE 21ST CENTURY!!

                                              ISDN is a dinosaur, JUST like agents that still want you to MAIL THEM A CD?!? (seriously? in 2011??) they will all be history very, very soon.

                                              Posted by:
                                              • Joseph Loewinsohn
                                              • July 14, 2011 4:04 PM

                                                ISDN is still effective, but very expensive. I use Source Connect in my studio, and if I do need to connect with an ISDN studio, all I have to do is employ one of the many ISDN bridging studios for a nominal fee. Easy and convenient.

                                                ISDN has been around a while, and will take a while to fade away completely. But it has started; there are many areas where telcos are no longer installing new ISDN service.

                                                Posted by:

                                                  I used to have ISDN here in the UK - paid British Telecom regularly on time - and then they said " we are stopping ISDN" and duly removed my connection - then had the cheek to want me to pay to have my number re-instated. Whilst I had it, it worked well for me.
                                                  But; there are alternatives.
                                                  I would willingly use Audio Over IP with my copy of AudioTX Communicator, but I find that many of the voices I work with are not familiar with the technical settings and don't feel confident to make changes.
                                                  So, most of the time now it is down to using the phone patch for direction and then get the talent to email me the resultant file/s.
                                                  For orginating audio here in my studio I have used streaming audio over the internet so that clients can listen remotely on a standard media player - but then there is the latency!
                                                  Stuart Graham

                                                  Posted by:

                                                    Since you asked for more comments on ISDN I'll add to my thoughts from earlier this year.

                                                    Another idea is to partner with a studio in your area that has ALREADY invested in ISDN and is paying the monthly fees, etc. This beats putting up the money yourself until it is justified by a steady cleint base of your own.

                                                    We're an active media studio and provide our ISDN link to local VO folks for their clients. Many savvy clients & ad agencies will often pay the extra professional studio costs to be able to direct the talent via ISDN and have immediate access to the audio at the end of the session - with no uploads & downloads. Time is money folks!

                                                    For VO people who feel they need to include the ISDN costs in their fee, we also offer ISDN at a discounted rate (and sometimes in trade for VO services). It is a two-way street that has been productive for both the VO talent & the studio.

                                                    Tim Keenan - CreativeMediaRecording.com

                                                    Posted by:

                                                      The technology will go away when those writing our checks stop using it.

                                                      Posted by:
                                                      • Dawson
                                                      • October 20, 2011 3:25 PM

                                                        I have used ISDN in a studio I had in S. America (I live in Dallas, Tx), and It paid itself many times. So far it is the best for live recording sessions. You can not record using Skype if you want broadcast quality. Skype works perfect to receive direction though, I use it all the time. So I would say that ISDN will be here for a few more years.
                                                        Actually I closed down my studio in South America a couple of months ago and brought the Telos and all the equipment with me. But since I have my own studio here I don't need it so I'm selling it. If someone is interested please let me know.

                                                        Juan C Hernandez

                                                        Posted by:
                                                        • Juan Carlos Hernandez
                                                        • October 20, 2011 5:55 PM

                                                          "Bah! those things will never catch on! They're noisy and smelly, and they scare the horses!" - horse rider, reflecting on combustion automobiles

                                                          ISDN will phase out, and the strength and viability of it's successor will be either inspired or inhibited by the existing experts who still participate in ISDN. I'd like to think current, pro-ISDN users will also parallel and promote the next-best-thing for those coming after them. But that takes guts...


                                                          Posted by:

                                                            NEWSFLASH!!!! ISDN DEAD IN 10 YEARS!!!
                                                            In that 10 years you could miss out on thousands of dollars of jobs.
                                                            Are you prepared to miss out on work because you "think" somethings just around the corner? Don't be crazy. This is like waiting for hydrogen cars or the like. Yes, they will come, but in the meantime you still have to get places. I have Source Connect, I have used it twice in 5 years. It is a great product....but slow to catch on.

                                                            Posted by:

                                                              My thoughts? I think ISDN is RIDICULOUS!! Having been in IT since the days BEFORE the Internet, I know that ISDN was the fastest speed around for business back in the mid-90's when the Internet really took off. However, access to the Internet is faster and cheaper in a THOUSAND different ways since then. Am I really expected to pay thousands of dollars a month for an decades-old technology just because studios can't figure out how to do the same thing using the Internet connections they already have and pay for gladly? It's MADNESS!

                                                              I say let ISDN die already! The sooner the better!!!

                                                              Posted by:

                                                                My situation is a bit different.
                                                                I used ISDN when I was temporarily in OKC for a period of time.
                                                                Rarely ever had a problem. We moved to north Dallas about two years ago and we have nothing but fiber optic to the house/studio. Unfortunately going from Fiber Optic to ISDN has become a tedious process there by many phone calls, reexplaining what I need but NO ONE literally having any answers. So...I'm Source Connect now. Would I rather have ISDN? Absolutely! :(

                                                                Posted by:

                                                                  Wow, so many responses!
                                                                  Can't say much that hasn't been said except to say that it I really don't think it matters what the end users think or have a need for. It just seems that if the telecoms aren't making enough on the service to justify it and support then it will be phased out. Just my humble opinion.
                                                                  Great article, Stephanie!
                                                                  - Doug Jeffery

                                                                  Posted by:

                                                                    I'm all for less expensive IP solutions. We just haven't conquered the latency issues inherent with IP. Give it a few years. :-)

                                                                    Best to all,

                                                                    Posted by:
                                                                    • Tom Mathis
                                                                    • May 3, 2013 3:49 PM

                                                                      People, you must get it together, and grasp the reason ISDN reamins. First, let me start by saying...yes, I truly hate needing it. But...I know why it continues to linger. The Internet was NEVER designed as a point to point physical connection between two, or more users. Example, you can be in the same room with someone, and send them an Instant Message, and that path differs EVERY time. It could go from your ISP, to Russia and back before it gets to the guy next to you close enough to smell his breath. ISDN establishes PRIVATE connection stability bewtween point A & B, PRIOR to locking to the far-end Codec. Once locked, it's done. The ground would have to split to break the connection. STOP talking about bandwith! It's got nothing to do with that. You can have the fastest Internet connection on the planet, which has NO bearing on the quality of that connection, not to mention the guy on the other end with a connection just as lousy. The variables for failure are extraordinary. ISDN is the fully realized product of the incredible accomplishment of the Public Telephone Newtwork. A utility. A PUBLIC utility no different from electricity, goverened by tarrifs and laws that hold companies (AT&T) accountable for their actions. The Internet...you can do whatever you want. No rules, no accountability, no remorse. Thats why they want it gone. It's the Wild West. First ISDN, then landlines. Game over. The rules established in 1801 to keep (AT&T) from destroying the planet will be gone. Why do you think everyone has a cellphone? Once EVERY person is off a landline...guess what? They can pull it the switches! It's already happening. It's a HUGE problem, I get it. But it's because we are no longer a nation of industry. And a nation of industry would join together and replace the millions of miles of copper with point to point fiber. Would it happen overnight? No. But THAT'S what needs to happen. We can live in a wireless world, but the foundation MUST be hardwired. You can't escape that level of reliability. Am I against innovation? No. But you just can't replace something, with something crappier. It's not moral.

                                                                      Posted by:
                                                                      • RJ Rockwell
                                                                      • February 26, 2014 5:01 AM

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