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Chinese: please enter this market

“Cough, cough, cough,” I spluttered down the telephone in shock when told the price. Markets are, in general, excellent at making things cost less – so effective that we are sometimes encouraged by campaigners to pay extra. So what was it that made me aghast at its high price? It was something called an ISDN mixer.

A few days ago I was in a BBC studio late at night once again. I really like doing radio, but at the same time I would prefer to be doing evening and late-night radio from home with a mug of tea. The problem is that, understandably, the BBC does not like you doing interviews down an ordinary phone line because of the poor sound quality. So while at the BBC, I got a pen and jotted down the make of the ISDN mixer being used.

What’s with this ISDN mixer I am talking about? Apparently ISDN calls are not good quality on their own: I am told you need this ISDN mixer thing which has something called a “g722 audio codec”, and it is this codec which makes the call quality broadcast standard. And do you know how much one of these ISDN mixers cost? The make the Beeb uses is £1679 + VAT, excluding microphone and headphones, but I found another make (used by an impressive range of charities and trade unions) which costs a few hundred less. Still, it seems remarkably pricey for what is essentially a box with a few buttons and a printed circuit board.

I am writing this for two reasons. One, it is possible that an enlightened reader will post a comment explaining that what I need is called an XYZ and costs $79 at Wal-Mart. The second reason is to make the point that markets are a process, not an end state. The high price is not market failure (inasmuch as I do not think there is justification for the government to start making the things), but I do think lots of Chinese companies ought to enter the ISDN mixer market. Let’s hope.

15 comments to Chinese: please enter this market

  • BigFire

    I still remember going to an PacBell conference years back, and they explained that ISDN really stands for “I Still Don’t kNow”.

  • Verity

    Wot nide said.

    Alex, I understand Broadvoice has excellent voice quality, although I don’t know if you can use it for local calls. It only costs $20 a month for unlimited calls.

  • Well, ISDN was a solution without common applications for many years, which was why I frequently heard people claim it stands for “It still does nothing”.

  • For the non-techie readers, what Verity is suggesting is I use a Voice over IP (VoIP) system. Oddly enough at the Globalization Institute we use VoIP. I love VoIP to bits, but the problem is, over a ADSL broadband connection, there just isn’t the reliability you need when live on the radio to hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of listeners. By some strange coincidence, the VoIP phone I use does seem to offer the codec I need.

    I wonder if the quality would be sufficiently good if I used a leased line for my broadband? But a leased line was very expensive, too, last time I looked. Oh, and I wouldn’t like it if my VoIP provider’s server crashed while I was on air! 😉

  • For VOIP reliability the problem really isn’t going to be solved until IPV6 is going to be widely rolled out and QoS is supported on the network. In the meantime, a SNOM 190 will support g722 and seems to retail for about 150 Euro, at least according to voip-info.org.

  • Old Grouch

    Before you spend too much time looking for a mixer, you should check with BT (or whoever it is nowadays) to be sure they can provide ISDN service to your location, and how big a fortune they’ll want to do so. (ISDN != standard dial line) I wouldn’t think there would be a problem in metro London, but one never knows…

  • Tim

    Something I’ve learnt about tech markets is that if things are only used by large companies and are niche products, no-one bothers too much about cost.

    The reason? Large companies have giant budgets and the people doing the buying are spending someone else’s money. The people doing the buying are more concerned that the thing works, because that’s what they’ll get measured on (see statements like “no-one got fired for buying IBM”).

    Once a product starts to get out and reaches small companies, competition really kicks in, because the guy signing the cheque is spending his own money, or his boss’ money. Then, price becomes an issue as well as performance.

  • jack

    Why not a software based solution that would run on your existing personal computer?


  • Cardozo Bozo

    Skype(Link) has never let me down, and the sound quality is far superior to a regular line as long as both parties are using it. I can appreciate why the BBC might be leery of it though.

  • I find myself in a similar situation – I currently do a weekly segment for BBC Radio Five from LA via Skype – and it’s just about reliable enough (though we’ve had our share of hairy moments) and the audio sounds a bit “vocoded” at the top end. But I’m going to go the ISDN route I think – the sad thing is of course that it’s all going to be obsolete in 5 years and we’ll get ISDN quality audio over our mobile phones. The point about BT phone-lines is well taken though – and that’s before you get into the arcane world of SPIDS etc….

  • Nick Timms

    I don’t understand most of the acronisms above but we have been trying to use X-ten’s softphone on VoIP over our broadband (cable) and when it works its terrific but too often it just fades out when we’re talking. This is rather inconvenient as we run a telemarketing operation (b2b). Conventional landlines costs us a fortune but until the technology improves it looks like we are stuck with them.

  • Gustave La Joie

    My favourite music radio station (www.frequence3.fr) encourages listeners to call up on skype. I can honestly say that the quality, at least broadcast online is far better than normal phone ins. The fact that the radio station concerned is paying nothing for the calls is of course irrelevant to a blood-sucker tax-soaked monstrosity like the BBC.

    Alex, why are you wasting your time on a radio station listened to by only a tiny coterie of political nerds and collectivists?

  • Dale Amon

    One reader mentioned IPv6… if you wait for that it just may be a very long wait. The standards are all tied in knots and have major problems from the end user’s viewpoint. For those who know what I am talking about, the big sticking points are that there is no PI space in IPv6. (Provider Independant). This is a non-starter for those who do not wish to renumber their facilities.

    And no, I have no desire to get into a long discussion on these issues. I recommend NANOG if your interest level is beyond “IPv6 is not going to displace IPv4 any time soon”.

  • Cardozo Bozo, Skype is great (I use it all the time) but it is far from reliable the way Alex needs it. It can very laggy and cut out at times.

  • eli

    Maybe China will get in the market and then you can have your very own slave-labor made ISDN mixer. Way to support freedom there guy…