One of the biggest splashes made at Telecom ’87 in Geneva lasd month was DEC’s plan to address the market for integrated voice and data with a series of link-ups with the big telecommunications companies. They include British Telecom, Siemens, Plessey, Alcatel, Philips and Ericsson in Europe and Canada’s Northern Telecom, which does over 90% of its business in the US but is trying its hardest to break into Europe, and with NEC’s US operation. It is also negotiating hard with AT&T. The company is grouping its forthcoming developments under the title of Computer Integrated Telephony, CIT. The programme will link software applications on DEC’s VAX computer range to the switching capability of a PABX system using a simple 2Mbps synchronous link and the standard RS232 interface. The strategy is directed at the creation of applications at local level and, therefore, will extend what traditional data communications companies such as Case, Timeplex and Gandalf have been doing on a wide area basis for years. These companies have been selling products for years that pass voice and data signals over the same wires by multiplexing them. There is also the data over voice method, which has been around for some time, where a small part of the bandwidth for voice is allocated to data transmission. However, this has never been economic for everyday applications, because the cost of interfaces at both terminal and PABX end were prohibitively high. DEC, in alliance with the telecommunications companies, has decided to take the integrated voice and data concept to the application level. Standards To make this possible standards are all important and DEC is laying heavy emphasis on X25, X400 and ISDN. To link their computers, users are currently forced to buy expensive specialised equipment such as data access modules, specialised handsets or One-per-desk-type terminals, which can cost anything up to $1,200 per desk. The choice is wide and the costs are high. If one user needs an integrated application to come to his desk on a 10Mbps Ethernet link he will get it and if another is happy with PABX technology, then he will still be able to get integrated applications, says DEC’s CIT product manager Greg Borton. They will achieve the link using a simple synchronous driver. DEC will be releasing board-level products for its CIT scheme over the next 12 months, but is unprepared to talk about them as yet. But it does assure its customers that it will offer them integrated voice and data applications at a cost well below the methods currently available. The main question is who really needs the sophisticated functionality that DEC is planning. There are applications that spring to mind and will be useful to certain businesses. A customer support operation, for example, where the details and specific needs of a customer ringing in could be displayed on screen immediately, is an obvious example. At Telecom ’87, the company demonstrated links via Ethernet, running over fibre optic cable for data and twisted pair for voice, shown from the DEC stand to a Mitel SX200 on the British Telecom stand and to a Meridian SL-1 on the Northern Telecom stand. Applications included directory dialling from the terminal, electronic mail and telemarketing.
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