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INFORMATION MARKET OBSERVATORY (IMO)


ISDN IN THE EUROPEAN UNION: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE INFORMATION SERVICES SECTOR


Luxembourg, February 1994
IMO Working Paper 94/1 FINAL


Contents


Highlights

Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) technologies are rapidly upgrading Europe's ageing public switched analogue telephone networks. ISDN has considerable implications for information service providers in the form of very high transmission speeds and its ability to integrate previously separate services such as, voice, sound, fax, database access and interactive video.

Since early 1994, commercial ISDN services based on Euro-ISDN standards are available in most of the twelve Member States, offering full interconnectivity across the European Union.

Full ISDN interconnectivity between the countries of the European Union and those of EFTA (with the exception of Iceland) is provided for through their joint adherence to the Euro-ISDN set of standards.

There are currently more than 350,000 business subscribers to narrowband ISDN services across the Union; full geographic coverage has already been achieved in Denmark, Germany's old Länder, France, and the United Kingdom.

The most immediate potential impact of ISDN on the information services market is likely to be in the areas of document delivery and electronic publishing, which will increasingly incorporate high resolution images and graphics.

ISDN technologies open up the possibility of delivering online interactive multimedia applications into schools, homes and the workplace using existing copper-wire pair technology. Progress in these market segments will be highly dependent on a number of factors including the regulatory environment and further breakthroughs of data compression techniques.

In the longer term, ISDN users and service providers will migrate to an even more advanced form of communications technology currently being developed under the European Commission's RACE programme; Integrated Broadband Communications Network (IBCN). IBCN should be available to 50 per cent of all European businesses by the year 2010.

This Working Paper provides an overview of the progress being made towards the realisation of trans-European networks based on wide- and broadband communication technologies. The main sources of information for this Working Paper were European Commission documentation, supplemented by original research carried out on behalf of the Information Market Observatory by the Department of Information Science at The City University in London. A glossary of terms used in this paper is attached.


1. Introduction

The end of 1993 marked a turning point in the development of trans-European broadband communications with the co-ordinated introduction of Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services across most of the Union. ISDN is the digital successor to today's analogue telephone networks and it represents a development which is likely to have considerable implications for the way that information products and services will be delivered to customers in the future. ISDN, which enables huge quantities of data to be transmitted at high speed, makes it feasible to integrate text, voice, sound and images and so potentially opens up new markets for innovative information service providers.

This Working Paper is in four sections: the first outlines the main technical characteristics of ISDN; the second reviews the relevant EU policy initiatives; the Paper then assesses progress towards the introduction of ISDN services across Europe; and finally looks at the implications of ISDN both for users and suppliers of information services.

1.1 What is ISDN?

ISDN is an end-to-end digital network which is seen as the successor to the analogue public switched telephone networks; providing the advanced technological base needed to support a wide range of advanced information and other services. ISDN is a model of telecommunications provision which enables information in multiple formats to be transmitted over a single network. This is achieved by representing all information (text, voice, sound and images) in all-digital form. The introduction of ISDN makes possible the integration of previously distinct services such as analogue voice transmission, data communications, Group 3 facsimile, telex etc.

Investment in ISDN is being driven by increasing levels of demand for high speed data communications in many industrial sectors. These facilities are needed to support critical business applications such as EDI or paperless trading, electronic funds transfer, videoconferencing, and the sharing of marketing data across large corporations. This trend is exemplified by the increasing volumes of data traffic relative to basic voice transmission over the public networks.

Digitisation, resulting from the convergence of computing and communications technologies - particularly digital switching and multiplexing - offers advantages of speed and robustness of transmission. It also provides for the convenient integration of terminal equipment and interfaces. A single set of CCITT-defined interface standards ensures compatibility between all ISDN equipment and services.

Three broad categories of ISDN services are generally distinguished:

As well as rapid voice and data transmission, ISDN supports a number of other information transfer methods, notably Group 4 fax (high speed, high resolution, colour); videophones (integrating video display with sound); and teleconferencing. Initially, these services will be represented by separate pieces of equipment, such as fax machines and videophones or videoconference rooms, but increasingly they will converge to form an integrated workstation for the reception and transmission of all information in digitised form. ISDN will link with local area networks (LANs) to provide for the seamless integration of internal and external information. This is made possible as a result of the adoption of a common set of ISDN protocols and standards by both public and private sector providers.

1.2 Narrowband and broadband ISDN

ISDN is currently implemented through two forms of access - basic rate and primary rate access:

Basic or narrowband ISDN (N-ISDN) offers a transmission rate of up to 144 Kilobits per second (Kbps) and so is able to utilise the copper twisted wire pairs still widely used throughout Europe in the local loop. Narrowband ISDN is therefore already potentially available to any current user of the telephone system.

Broadband ISDN (B-ISDN) is a development which offers a greatly increased bandwidth, and hence faster transmission speeds, plus the ability to transmit compressed images to support multimedia applications. Broadband ISDN offers an increased transmission rate of up to 2 millions of bits per second (Mbps). For the transmission of uncompressed high-resolution video, however, much higher data rates are required, up to 600 Mbps in the case of fully interactive video services. These data rates can be supported only by optical fibre carriers and even greater bandwidths than B-ISDN can offer by itself. Alternatively, users of both narrow- and broadband ISDN can access higher bandwidths by using inverse multiplexors; these are devices which enable the total bandwidths of a number of individual ISDN channels to be merged into a single high capacity channel.

There is a further difference between broadband and narrowband ISDN. A new data transfer mechanism, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) or cell relay, is required, rather than the frame relay used in narrowband ISDN, to handle this rate of data transfer. B-ISDN is nonetheless based firmly on the same concepts as narrowband ISDN, and supports all 144 Kbps services. The introduction of B-ISDN offers users a degree of choice and flexibility and should be seen as qualitatively increasing the capabilities of ISDN; users and service providers may prefer a granularity of 144 Kbps for some applications but not necessarily for all..

1.3 Data compression technologies

The fact that services in an ISDN environment are in digital form means that a variety of data compression / decompression algorithms, otherwise known as codecfacilities, may be applied thus increasing the rate of data transmission through any given channel. There are two types: lossless algorithms where no information is lost in the decompression of a compressed signal and lossy algorithms where there is some loss of signal quality. The costs of codec technologies are falling rapidly and so are unlikely to be a major cost consideration in the design of terminal equipment in the future.

Given that the high bandwidth of ISDN is generally adequate for transmission of text, simple graphics and voice without compression, codecs are generally necessary only for multimedia transmission, where compression to the ISO/MPEG2 standard, with asynchronous transmission, is necessary. For videoconferencing, as an example, current data compression algorithms can reduce the 140 Mbps needed for transmission to 2 Mbps, or even to the narrowband ISDN standard of 144 Kbps. This, however, results in a picture quality which is acceptable for this application, but not for applications with more stringent motion rendition requirements. An example of the latter is high definition television (HDTV) which requires 565 Mbps. Technical developments are likely to remove this problem within the decade.

1.4 Cost-benefit aspects of ISDN

While there are clear technical advantages associated with ISDN and broadband communications networks, their ultimate acceptance in the marketplace will be determined by other factors: notably their cost, perceived benefits to the client, and ease of use. One prerequisite for the blossoming of the market for ISDN services is the need for cheaper multimedia split-screen workstations. The current minimum price in Europe for the most rudimentary workstation (comprising a 80486 processor at 66 MHz, 8 Mb memory, 300 Mb disk storage and 300 dpi printer) seems to have bottomed out at around 2,500 ECU; still an expensive system for the home or small business user.

At the present moment, ISDN can represent a significant saving over conventional X25 data lines: the UK National Computing Centre (NCC), for example, has estimated that this saving may be of the order of 20 per cent. However, such an innovative technology as ISDN is not subject to simple cost-benefit analysis: as will be seen later in this Working Paper, the added functionality of ISDN means that applications can be developed which previously were simply not feasible.

The extent of future acceptance of ISDN will also depend on its relative cost/performance against other technologies which are being rolled out in competition with it. Examples of potential competitors to ISDN include frame relay services for data communications; LAN-LAN interconnect, and digital subscriber lines for the delivery of video and shopping services to the home. On the other hand, these services do not yet offer Europe-wide standards comparable with Euro-ISDN.

2 European policy and actions

The traditional public telecommunications networks (circuit- and packet-switched) have been interconnected for a number of years. Similarly, the use of satellite systems has shown that national boundaries no longer represent a reference framework for modern communications technologies. The introduction of ISDN services at national level within the Member States of the EU therefore needs to be developed in a co-ordinated manner, so that a logical pan-European infrastructure is available to cope with the communications requirements of the continent as a whole.

2.1 Developing continent-wide standards for ISDN

As will be seen later, commercial ISDN services are now available in most of the Member States of the Union. Perhaps more importantly, the introduction of ISDN within Europe has been achieved in a co-ordinated fashion as a result of actions at the highest level. The European Commission's interest in promoting ISDN has been fuelled by the recognition of the strategic importance of strong, harmonised telecommunications to the successful achievement of a Union-wide market for goods and services. However, the initial deployment of ISDN services within Member States was characterised by differences in the pace and style of implementation. Consequently, following a suggestion from the European Commission, a "Memorandum of Understanding on the Implementation of a European ISDN Service" (MoU), was drawn up between 26 European public and private network operators from 20 countries in 1990. According to this agreement, European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) standards are regarded as a reference and common specifications to ensure terminal portability have been settled. The MoU committed the signatories to work towards a set of agreed standards (Euro-ISDN) and to implement them by the end of 1993.

The transition from current ISDN offerings to Euro-ISDN depends upon the availability of a complete set of basic ETSI standards. All standards for the implementation of Euro-ISDN were in place by the end of 1992 and have been `frozen' until June 1995 in order to ensure a period of stability and consolidation. Developing the Euro-ISDN throughout the Union will make an essential contribution to the free movement of electronic services. Its success rests on three key requirements, which are also inherent features:

A key political objective of the Union's telecommunications policy for the coming years is to see the general deployment of services meeting Euro-ISDN standards both by public and private network operators. Priority will be given to the availability of services to all business users, notably small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), of which there are some 10 million SMEs in the Union. Currently, few SMEs can afford the investment to develop their own dedicated network solutions; Euro-ISDN therefore offers a means of completely transforming Europe's information and communications infrastructure.

2.2 Towards integrated digital networks

In December 1990, the European Commission put forward an action programme for setting up trans-European networks in the areas of transport, energy, and telecommunications. The basic justification for EU action in each of these areas is the need to promote the development of Europe's infrastructure. At the same time, these networks can be seen as a logical development of the single European market, assisting the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital throughout the Union.

Euro-ISDN is an important component in realising the objective of a common broadband communications environment for Europe. However, ISDN is not the only technology around and new forms of information service delivery will develop in the future. Since the mid-1980s, the RACE programme (Research & Development in Advanced Communications technology in Europe) has become a synonym for efforts to develop and implement high-speed Integrated Broadband Communications Network (IBCN) in Europe. The high-speed broadband networks of the future will offer bandwidths well in excess of the 2 Mbps limits currently being offered by B-ISDN. This will enable the delivery of a complete mix of new and existing services to the business user. Typical IBCN applications are likely to include fast inter-LAN data transmission, high definition television (HDTV), desktop videoconferencing, and sophisticated CAD-CAM facilities.

IBCN is a generic concept, not a fully defined technology; choice between a number of possible technical solutions will eventually deliver an integrated high-speed digital communications system. At this stage, it is too early to be prescriptive about what that choice may be. It is possible, however, to define the IBCN concept more closely. The term "integrated" points to the integrity of the whole network and the proper interworking of all its constituent parts, such as existing voice telephony, narrowband ISDN, mobile services and emerging broadband video services. "Broadband" designates the total mix of services to be offered, from the upper end of narrowband ISDN to the very high-speed facilities required to transmit uncompressed video. "Communications" implies not only basic switching and transmission, but higher level features which will make broadband services efficient, user-friendly and economically viable.

The prospects are that IBCN, currently still at the development stage within the European Commission's RACE programme, should become commercially available to businesses in the major centres of the Union from around 1995 onwards. Depending on local conditions, existing and planned `broadband islands' will progressively link up via long-distance optical fibre networks, offering increasingly universal access to services. An alternative solution, and one which could potentially be quicker and less expensive to implement might be to use satellite connections to link broadband islands; in this case each island would, however, require an appropriate earth station.

By 2010, the European Commission has set a target for Union-wide broadband access to 50 per cent of all businesses and organisations. Current progress towards the development of ISDN networks is therefore a transitional phase in the migration to a fully integrated broadband future.

2.3 Growth, competitiveness and employment

In recent years, telecommunications has emerged as one of the largest and single most important industrial sectors within the European Union and one which is likely to represent around six per cent of European gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2000. The European market for telecommunication services alone (excluding equipment) was valued at 84 BECU in 1991 and it is growing annually by eight per cent, well above the average rate of inflation.

However, the European telecommunications marketplace is characterised by a relatively low level of interconnection and interoperability between networks which are still largely operated by dominant national players. Recognising the strategic importance of telecommunications, the European Commission has identified the sector not simply for its direct economic contribution, but as a means of facilitating industrial growth, competitiveness and employment gains across the whole industrial fabric. The Commission's White Paper examined at the Brussels Summit of 10-11 December 1993 evaluated at 67 BECU the value of priority projects in the area of trans-European telecommunication networks.

3 Current infrastructure assessment

3.1 ISDN infrastructure in the European Union

ISDN services have been offered in the Union since 1987. Significant progress has been made in terms of installing an ISDN infrastructure within the European Union. ISDN services are now available in nine of the Member States, with a total of 350,000 access points installed in these countries. The current exceptions are Greece and Portugal, where pilot experiments are well under way, and Luxembourg, which will start its own ISDN service early in 1994.

Table 1 (see page 8) provides indicators of ISDN penetration across the European Union in terms of territorial coverage and number of subscriptions for basic (BRA) and primary rate access (PRA). Operators in four countries: Denmark, Germany's old Länder, France, and the UK were offering full geographic coverage to business subscribers as of the beginning of 1993. Owing to their later introduction and for other reasons, the number of ISDN subscriptions in operation in the other Member States are lower in comparative terms.

While narrowband ISDN lines are currently installed (if only in pilot schemes) in all Member States, the penetration of the installed base is highly uneven, as Figure 1 shows (see page 8).

Within the 1993/94 timeframe adopted by Europe's telecoms operators, Euro-ISDN will generally be available within the central parts of the Union. Many of the less favoured regions, however, will again be disadvantaged by a roll-out for Euro-ISDN which is likely to extend to the end of the decade and beyond. For this reason, the European Commission has recently presented a series of proposals to deal with ISDN within the wider context of an action plan for setting up trans-European Networks (TENs).

3.2 ISDN developments outside the European Union

While the increasing availability of ISDN within the European Union represents a major opportunity for information service suppliers, the implementation of Euro-ISDN is, by itself, not the whole answer. ISDN development and implementation is fragmentary over much of the industry's 'global' marketplace (actually centred on Western Europe, North America and Japan) which means that investment in new applications has an element of risk, at least until customers in all the major market segments can receive the service.


Table 1: ISDN coverage and subscriptions; EU Member States, 1  January  1994                       
Territorial coverage        Subscriptions                            (percent)                 (number)              
       BRA           PRA              BRA         PRA


Belgium 15 100 1,500 15

Denmark

- Tele Danmark 100 100 1,217 62

Germany(a) 70 70 281,000 18,000

Spain(b) 10 10 150 ..

France 100 100 91,000 12,000

Greece .. .. .. ..

Ireland(c) .. .. .. ..

Italy 37 37 1,000 20

Netherlands 40(d) 40 850 42

Luxembourg(e) .. .. 12 ..

Portugal(f)

- TLP 40 40 68 16

- TP 50 50 100 15

United Kingdom

- BT <90 100 44,000 6,000

.. Figures not available.

(a) These figures refer to the old Länder; ISDN in the new Länder is confined to certain dedicated urban areas.

(b) Pilot ISDN subscribers; ISDN commercially launched in June 1993.

(c) Pilot ISDN subscribers; ISDN commercially launched in July 1993.

(d) Expected to reach 70 per cent coverage by end-1994.

(e) ISDN commercial launched at the beginning of 1994; covering the city of Luxembourg only.

(f) Pilot ISDN subscribers.

Source: European Commission DG-XIII/A3, 1994.

Figure 1: Projected penetration of narrowband ISDN by 1994

Progress towards the adoption of Euro-ISDN is almost complete, as indicated by the timeframes shown in Table 2.



Table 2: Migration to Euro-ISDN; EU Member States,

1 January 1994

Offering Euro- Tariffs

ISDN from fixed


Belgium 1993 1993

Denmark January 1992 January 1992

Germany 1993 April 1993

Spain .. ..

Greece Early 1994 ..

France December 1993 December 1993

Ireland December 1993 December 1993

Italy November 1993 November 1993

Luxembourg Early 1994 ..

Netherlands June 1993 April 1993

Portugal (TLP) End 1992 End 1993 (latest)

Portugal (TP End 199 End 1993 (latest)

United Kingdom (BT) October 1993 July 1993

.. Information not available.

Source: European Commission DG-XIII/A3, 1994.


For example, the introduction of ISDN services in the US is generally considered to have been poorly co-ordinated, with little progress towards nationwide deployment or interoperable standards. As the US Department of Commerce admits, "the development of these networks continues to proceed more rapidly in Western Europe than in the United States" (US Industrial Outlook, 1993). Partly as a response to this position of comparative disadvantage, the Clinton-Gore administration has recently responded by developing the idea of massive public and private sector investment in a National Information Infrastructure.

The situation with regard to ISDN developments in Japan is more favourable; commercial ISDN services have been available since April 1988 and are homogenous since all domestic services are offered by NTT. There has also been considerable co-operation between Europe and Japan in ensuring that the new digital networks and services are fully compatible. A series of bilateral meetings and experiments have been conducted between Europe and Japan to test the interoperability of ISDN products under the EJIX (EU-Japan ISDN Interconnection Experiment) initiative since 1989.

Full ISDN interconnectivity between the countries of the European Union and those of EFTA (with the exception of Iceland) is provided through their joint adherence to the Euro-ISDN set of standards.

4 Implications for the information services sector

The extent to which ISDN facilities, even broadband, will result in the introduction of innovative services, such as interactive video, should not be overestimated. Voice telephony will still be a dominant usage, and information services delivered over ISDN, though using the convenience and high throughput, will be largely conventional in nature.

Nonetheless, the potential exists for broadband ISDN to support novel information services. These will rest on three attributes of the technology:

- the ability to transfer large amounts of data very rapidly;

- the capability to transmit multimedia information conveniently;

- the integration of services, allowing users to receive different forms of transmission at a single workstation.

One of the primary implications for the information services sector will be an internal one and will relate to the way in which text and images are moved around and processed within information companies. Thus major information groups, ranging from traditional print publishers to database producers are using ISDN, or at least seriously considering doing so, for the purposes of internal data transfer during the compilation and make-up stages of their work.

4.1 New information applications

The most immediate potential impact is on electronic publishing and document delivery, which will acquire the capability to send documents containing a mixture of text, high-resolution graphics, and coloured illustrations very rapidly and reliably. The electronic journal would gain in credibility, as users could obtain, on-screen or on a local printer, the equivalent quality of the printed page. There is a need, however, for cheap, fast , plain-paper printers to enable this market to take off; a commercial opportunity, perhaps for European hardware manufacturers.

The same capability of integrating different information formats in a single application will provide users of online retrieval systems with very high quality output, including graphics of all sorts: trademarks, engineering drawings, maps, chemical structure diagrams, etc. These would be network equivalents of products currently available, if at all, on CD-ROM.

New interactive multimedia services are likely to appear, taking advantage of the ability for transmission of high quality graphics. Remote access to libraries of photographs, and similar images is an obvious example. Another is the transmission of medical images, a forerunner of this being the pioneering use of ISDN to transmit X-ray images between the hospitals of Rennes and Lennion in France. Another example is the transmission of images of art works, the value of which has been shown by the CD-ROM based Micro Gallery database, produced by the National Gallery in London. In this context, the acquisition by the MicroSoft corporation of the copyright to the electronic images of many art works worldwide may be an indication of the future.

The ability to transmit maps, weather graphics, satellite photographs etc. will give a major impetus to geographic and environmental information systems. Colour graphics, with animation, will also form the basis for services in chemistry, pharmacology and molecular biology.

Including sound, animation, and full-motion video in multimedia transmissions suggests a number of possibilities for new network-based information services. An immediate application is remote access to libraries of video sequences, such as are maintained by television companies. Customised news services, and current affairs databases, are an obvious example, and many examples of educational resources come to mind. These are the sort of products now beginning to appear on CD-ROM and CD-I. The economics of products of this sort has yet to be determined, and the cost of intellectual effort in their production is clearly a major factor, but it may be that network transmission will broaden the market sufficiently to give an impetus to this area.

ISDN is likely to have a significant impact upon training and open learning applications. In particular, the possibility of combining the multimedia capability of CD-based media with live interaction will make electronic training and education a more viable option. Video transmission of teaching material using ISDN is already routinely carried out, allowing, for example, remote audiences to witness medical procedures. These videos are generally stored for subsequent access by students, and could form the basis of large collections of such material, made available over networks by an information provider.

There has long been a requirement among information users of all kinds for electronic product information and ordering services which provide information concerning suppliers and prices. Electronic product information services have, until now, been constrained by the characteristics of the delivery media available to them: online services have not allowed the transmission of images, while CD-ROM services are unsuited to the rapid updates needed to supply current price information. ISDN is likely to transform both the way that product information is delivered and how products are ordered.

Software libraries could also be made available over the network, although it is likely that only for the larger products would the increased speed of access make a significant difference to economics. However, greater availability of software in this way could both increase usage of a wider range of systems, particularly if support functions were also available over the network, and affect licensing norms.

4.2 Implications for users

Access by home users to information services would come along with a much increased availability of multimedia products, largely for leisure (games, movies, interactive and cable TV, music), but to some extent for commercial transactions (home shopping, banking). Experiments are already underway in some EU countries using ISDN to assist with teleworking experiments. This implies that information producers will have to adopt the "look and feel" of these other systems, if they are to gain wide public acceptance; strategic alliances are likely in this respect.

Teleworking is likely to increase, under the impetus of the richer information transfer environment. For the information industry, this means both a greater proportion of its workforce employed in this manner, and an increased opportunity to provide services to this section of the working population.

Education, both formal and self-managed, will make more use of remote access to information sources. Information service suppliers may therefore find the educational sector, including non-traditional players, to be a more significant market for electronic products than before.

Audioconferencing and videoconferencing are likely to increase in scope and scale. Information suppliers will find a new market providing interactive access to information while such conferences are in progress.

4.3 Implications for the information environment

Charging policies would be liable to have to change. While the costs of transmission will be determined by telecommunications operators, transmission costs will inevitably fall to some degree in real terms, and so it is unlikely that the current charging policies of information suppliers could remain unchanged. In particular, the very rapid rates of information transfer would imply that connect time charging would no longer be commercially viable. This is likely to further accelerate a current trend within the online industry to relate charges to the perceived value of information content rather than information-independent measures such as connect time.

Interfaces to networked systems can take advantage of greater transmission rates to become more sophisticated, by increased use of graphics, of colour and of non-keyboard interaction. This will almost certainly be based on one of the de facto Windows standards such as MicroSoft. Voice control of some simple functions will become a possibility. Voice may also be used routinely and as adjunct to screen display of information, to emphasise particular points, or to provide a commentary.

Increasingly easy access to ISDN in the future will mean that online interactive multimedia products, freed from the restrictions of running on stand-alone systems, will be available to many users simultaneously. It is predicted that the market for stand-alone workstations will decline rapidly within the next three or four years as users perceive the benefits of linking workstations across high capacity networks such as ISDN. It is predicted that around 50 per cent of workstations in large corporate organisations will be linked by ISDN networks by 1997.

Service suppliers will therefore increasingly be able to assume that their users will have an integrated workstation, combining data and facsimile links, with voice transmission, thus simplifying and rationalising interface design.

The availability of large databases of accessible multimedia products raises the need for appropriate access tools such as classifications and indexing languages, since those developed for textual material will not necessarily be suitable. The tools developed specifically for network access (Gopher, Archie, WAIS, etc.) lack the sophistication necessary for effective information retrieval.

4.4 Implications for information service providers

The capability to transmit voice and video, simultaneously with data, will have a profound effect, particular when the end-user is able to see these on a split-screen workstation. An immediate potential is for the enhancement of information services' help desks, whereby help can be offered as the search is viewed on screen.

Information brokers will be able to interact with their clients, by voice and/or video, simultaneously to viewing information on the screen. This will lead to a novel style of intermediary interaction, with a closer linkage of interpersonal communication with access to, and display of, information sources. This may have particular significance for information delivery in remoter regions.

The training of information specialists and intermediaries will also be affected, a new dimension being brought to distance learning. Trainees will, for example, be able to see a process of information retrieval or analysis carried out, while simultaneously discussing it with their tutor. This will lead to a form of "remote work shadowing", which could be particularly useful for trainees in less favoured regions. Network access to this resource could initially be real-time and interactive, and subsequently by viewing material from an archive.

4.5 Effects on current services

Online services will cease to be primarily ASCII text only systems, and will offer integration of illustrations and graphics, with a more sophisticated graphical user environment. This will lead, in many cases, to a full multimedia interface.

Videotex services are likely to gain in importance, with the increased transmission rate and transactional capabilities provided by ISDN. Services such as home shopping and home banking in particular should receive a fresh stimulus.

The market position of CD-ROM services is likely to be considerably affected by the availability of wideband communications. The ability to transmit, at minimal cost, large amounts of information to a user, including information in multimedia formats, will place a question mark against the rationale for much use of the optical medium. The extent to which markets for databases on CD-ROM will actually be eroded by online wideband access will, however, be determined largely by economic considerations - notably the trade-off between the costs and perceived benefits of subscribing to ISDN services. It is likely that networked CD-ROM applications will be augmented, or in some cases replaced, by CD-I systems.

Services based on facsimile transmission of information are likely to be largely superseded by integrated ISDN transmission to the user's workstation, using Group 4 fax standards.

Publishing, including electronic publishing, will move increasingly towards the selective distribution, via the network, of material stored centrally in electronic form. Information sets will be stored in a platform-independent manner, to be later mapped to the most appropriate delivery platform determined by the needs of users and economic considerations.

Libraries holding large collections of slides, maps, photographs, drawings etc. will be able to consider providing remote access to their collections.

A more general effect will be the continued blurring of boundaries between various media groups in the information industries.

5 Conclusions

Significant progress has already been made towards developing a common framework for a European ISDN infrastructure with the adoption of Euro-ISDN standards. The establishment of compatible networks, at least within Western Europe, means that information service suppliers can at last enjoy continent-wide economies of scale in broadband communications. There remain, however, a number of unanswered questions relating to this potential market opportunity. The first of these relates to the current absence of non-voice telematic services (the so-called `telematics gap'). This is an issue which the European Commission has been aware of for some time, and to which it has responded by developing telematics programmes in the areas of transport (DRIVE), healthcare (AIM), distance learning (DELTA), libraries (Libraries programme) and linguistic research and engineering (Eurotra).

The integration of a variety of services such as fax, database access, videotex and electronic mail through a single user interface is a central feature of ISDN. Yet, with the possible exception of Group 3 fax where design leadership is in the hands of Japanese manufacturers, none of these services is yet offered on a fully harmonised and Union-wide basis. If leading edge suppliers and users are to be drawn into the marketplace for new information services which make use of the extra bandwidth and integration possibilities offered by ISDN, equipment manufacturers will first need to be convinced that a market opportunity really exists.

Another problem relating to the development of a market for broadband information services is uncertainty about the technology. The rate of technical progress in communications technology is so fast that narrowband ISDN already appears to be a somewhat dated solution in some respects. One limitation of N-ISDN is that it is simply not fast enough to support high resolution interactive video. However, further breakthroughs in data compression techniques may offer a positive trade-off against N-ISDN's inherent bandwidth limitations.

Based on these trends many authors have expressed the opinion that specific 'killer applications' for ISDN will emerge, galvanising business and public interest in the capabilities offered by the new broadband communications media. So far, no candidates have emerged which seem particularly likely to have this impact on the marketplace; organic growth of applications therefore remains the most plausible basis for the development of broadband services.

Glossary of terms

AIM

Advanced Informatics in Medicine.

Analogue network

A network which transmits data represented by continuously varying changes in a physical property, usually voltage.

ASCII

American Standard Code for Information Interchange, a coding scheme of very wide applicability, but restricted to unformatted text with English characters.

Archie

A network facility, allowing searching of indexes of available files on public servers.

Asynchronous frame relay

See asynchronous transmission

Asynchronous transmission

A high- speed means of data transfer, with two or more channels simultaneously used for sending and receiving information. Also referred to as asynchronous frame relay (AFR) and call relay.

Audioconferencing

A form of teleconferencing, restricted to voice communication.

Bandwidth

The difference between the highest and lowest frequencies carried by a communications channel, a high bandwidth implying a greater data transmission capability.

B- ISDN

Broadband ISDN. A digital communications network technology offering data transmission rates of up to 2 Mbps (see also N-ISDN).

CAD

Computer aided design

CAM

Computer aided manufacturing

CCITT

Comité Consultatif Internationale de Télégraphie, a body which makes recommendations for standardising equipment and protocols for both public and private computer networks.

CD-I

Compact disc-interactive, a hardware/software standard for a form of optical disc technology which can combine audio, video and text on optical discs.

CD-ROM

Compact disc read-only memory, a form of storage with high capacity and using laser optics instead of magnetic technology.

Cell relay

See asynchronous transmission

Circuit switching

A means of connecting network users by establishing a physical link.

Codec

Compression/decompression, and devices to achieve this.

DELTA

Developing European Learning through Technological Advance

Digital network

A network which transmits data in binary encoded form.

DRIVE

Dedicated Road Infrastructure for Vehicle safety in Europe

EDI

Electronic data interchange, the facility to transfer commercial information, such as invoices and orders, between computers across a network.

ETSI

European Telecommunications Standards Institute

Eurotra

Community research and development programme for a machine translation system of advanced design.

Frame relay

Transmission of data in blocks, or frames: may be synchronous or asynchronous.

Gopher

A network tool, allowing menu-driven access to network facilities.

Interconnectivity

The ability to connect multiple local and wide area networks together through common standards and protocols.

Interoperability

The ability to run telematic services across a network composed of equipment from many vendors through common standards and protocols.

ISDN

Integrated Services Digital Network

Kbps

Kilo bits per second, a measure of transmission rate.

LAN

see Local area network

Local area network

A group of computers and associated input/output and storage devices, within a limited geographical area, such as an office block, connected by a communications link, so that any device on the network can interact with any other.

Mbps

Mega bits per second, a measure of transmission rate.

Multiplexing

A technique which separates signals on a channel by time, space or frequency, so that a number of signals may share the same channel.

N-ISDN

Narrowband ISDN. A digital communications network technology offering data transmission rates of up to 144 Kbps (see also B-ISDN).

Packet switching

A means of sending data across a network, with messages broken into small units (packets) each sent independently by the best route between sender and receiver.

RACE

Research and Development in Advanced Communications Technology for Europe (research programme of the Commission of the European Communities).

Switching

Means for the establishment of temporary links, as required, between two users of a communications network.

Teleconferencing

The use of audio, video and computer equipment across a network, so that geographically separated participants can participate in meetings.

Telematics

From télématique, a term indicating applications dependent on the integration of computers and telecommunications.

Teleworking

Also known as telecommuting. The practice of working from a location remote from a main workplace (often at home) and communicating with a main office via a network.

Videoconferencing

A form of teleconferencing, including video transmission as well as sound.

WAIS

Wide Area Information Servers. A network tool, giving subject access to network information resources.

X25

A protocol, adopted by the CCITT as a standard, to provide packet switched communication between remote hosts possible through a computer network.

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