[plug] Telstra NT1-Plus-II and ISDN experiences

Steve Boak sboak at westnet.com.au
Fri Apr 2 00:11:12 WST 2004

Hi all

Since ISDN has come up again today, I thought I would throw in my 2c worth on 
the subject for the archives.

In general I am extremely happy with Westnet's ISDN service, and any 
negativity in the following is just the niggling little things we all expect 
now and again when playing with any sort of communications device any more 
complicared than a plain old telephone. With 70ms ping times, 15kBytes/sec 
sustained transfer rates (both ways), capped cost data calls, unlimited 
downloads, life isn't too bad :)

Of course that's not to say ADSL wouldn't be nicer, but I don't think that is 
even a remote possibility. Even though I am only 2.5km from my exchange (RIM) 
there will never be enough customers in this rural area to convince Telstra 
to make ADSL available here.

Just in case someone asks, total cost of the whole ISDN shebang is:

Installation of NT1-Plus-II ISDN box: $55.00 (on special I believe)
Line Rental: $22.50/month (for the second line)
2 x Westnet Essentials 64k accounts for 128k access $38.90/month
Capped calls to 01983... numbers $16.50/month

So that comes to about $78/month for unlimited time/download 128k ISDN.

For me, 25km south of Nannup, 128k ISDN is the only viable option other than 
56k dialup, but it is actually quite good now it is working correctly. (it 
always worked well at 64k, but took 6 months to get 128k working correctly, 
between Westnet's routing and Telstra's hardware problems).

I actually got ISDN installed as a cheaper way to get a second phone line for 
my analog modem, before the capped calls became available. I must say the 
analog modem really flies over the high quality ISDN line, with 50k connects 
every time and up to 14 days on a single local call. I assume this is because 
the connection is actually digital from my desktop, even if I am talking on 
the phone or using an analog modem. i.e. either it works perfectly, or not at 
all :)

If you are a residential ISDN user (Telstra On Ramp Home), you can get a 
$16.50 per month fixed price plan for all your calls to 01983... numbers, 
which can save you a LOT of money over the normal 30c/hour (60c/hr for 128k) 
timed rate. 60c/hour 24/7 for a month is about $430 :) A friend of mine who 
connected to ISDN recently didn't know about this, and found out the hard 

(Big Pond ISDN customers don't have to pay for either calls to 01983... 
numbers or the $16.50/month charge, as they are included in the price of 
their internet plan)

The fixed-price ISDN call plan you want, called the 'Telstra ISDN Internet 
Plan' is not mentioned anywhere on Telstra's website except in some obscure 
conditions of use document. You may have trouble finding an operator who 
knows anything about it, and you will almost definitely get shunted to a Big 
Pond operator who knows nothing about it either, but I assure you it does 
exist. I'm using it right now! If you have problems, demand to speak to a 
manager of either ISDN or Big Pond, they seem to know what is going on. 

This link explains it pretty well: 

BTW, it appears there is a special on at the moment for Telstra ISDN 
installation, $55 instead of the usual $190. Don't quote me on this though.

My ISDN installation took three months longer than expected, because the ISDN 
server(?) card for the RIM was broken - apparently 50% failure rate on the 
container load imported at the time. Who knows how many of the installed 
units are faulty? I know my RIM is regularly throwing fault indications, but 
fortunately it doesn't seem to affect me or my connection.

I have had chronic (i.e. long term) problems with connecting to Westnet's 
primary POP number, which would work perfectly at 64k, but as soon as the 
second channel chipped in to come up to 128k, the connection would lock up 
(no IP traffic) but not hang up. The solution finally arrived this week, 
partly with an upgrade of the NT1-Plus-II firmware to version 2.5, and partly 
due to Westnet solving a problem with joining the two 64k data streams when 
the two calls managed to get routed into two separate servers.

Here's the on-topic bit :)

My NT1-Plus-II has worked well connected through USB to my mini-itx debian 
(Woody) firewall since the day it was installed. It shows up as a standard AT 
modem on /dev/ttyACM0 once the USB interface has been set up, and all the 
standard ppp and chat scripts work correctly. Selecting 64k or 128k, 
bandwidth on demand, and dynamic voice override (drops a 64k channel when a 
phone call comes in or out, and restores it automatically afterwards) are all 
easily set with AT commands. Since I am not being charged per call, ppp 
options are set to permanent mode, with immediate redial if the connection 
drops. A successful redial connection on ISDN takes less than a second (and 
is silent - the NT1 does not have a speaker), so I never notice unless I 
happen to see it in the logs. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you arent't on a fixed cost ISDN call plan, *DON'T* enable 
unlimited immediate redials, unless you want to risk really big phone bills. 
The NT1 will hang up and redial every second or so if you get your username 
or password wrong (or your ISP rejects you for some reason, like timed 
disconnection). If you can't be bothered with the maths, how does 3600*0.25c 
or around $900 per hour sound? And don't expect Telstra to be very 
sympathetic either if you do end up with $thousand bills.

There are many references to bad experiences with the NT1 on various 
discussion groups, but it now appears (to me) that most of those can be fixed 
with a free firmware upgrade. Just ring Telstra and they will do it remotely, 
which is great for country installations. The only problem I had was that the 
NT1 went awol after the upgrade (sync light continouosly blinking), and I had 
to physically unplug all the power and phone lines to reset it. Aparrently 
that's not supposed to happen :)

Another snippet of information - when I said that I had recommended ISDN to 
another friend down here, the Telstra tech winced, and said they hated them 
as they had so many problems with ISDN. He didn't elaborate though.

Hope this is useful to someone...

And apologies to anyone who really isn't interested in ISDN :)


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