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-- by James E. Powell
ISDN isn't just for high-speed data communications anymore. Plug in Jetstream's Front Desk hardware and the Front Desk Windows 95 software, and you've got a sophisticated telephone answering system and a high-speed modem. Best of all, Jetstream gets your ISDN line installed and functioning properly, a service worth its weight in gold.
On the Front Desk hub (a large, contoured box that can sit on the floor) are plugs for your ISDN line and three regular phone peripherals-telephone handset, fax machine and whatever else you need to hook up. It includes a power cord, as well as a serial port for connecting to your PC. The Front Desk Display Unit, a small box with a four-line LCD, shows the system's status and current activity, and offers menus for listening to your voice-mail messages. The Display Unit sits on your desk, usually next to your telephone handset. Display buttons are used to select menus shown on the LCD; choose between Line 1 and Line 2, adjust the volume and put calls on hold.
The software installation asks for ISDN specifics (SPIDs and telephone numbers) and allows you to record one or more standard greetings. It then loads and permanently stores this data into the Front Desk hub.
It's important to draw a distinction between lines and phone numbers. As installed, my ISDN service provided an ISDN line with the standard two B channels and one D channel. Four telephone numbers were assigned to this ISDN line. Front Desk suggests you use the first line as a primary business line, the second for fax, the third for priority calls and the fourth for personal calls. ISDN can handle two simultaneous calls to any two of the four numbers, or one outside call when you're also placing a data call.
The Front Desk Manager software uses a hierarchical view and wizards to set up how calls are handled. For example, you can tell the program to take a message in any of nine mailboxes. You can code in special handling based on the caller's telephone number (including wild cards). You can also define call routing for the four telephone numbers independently, or program your own custom routing modes. Front Desk's Display Unit can place a party on hold or initiate three-party conference calls. You can play back your messages through the Display Unit's speaker. The Display Unit does not, however, work as a speakerphone-the handset you plug into the unit must have that capability.
The system does have some limitations. It can't use both ISDN B channels for outgoing data calls yet. An update, scheduled to be released early this year, will address that problem. Fortunately, getting Front Desk to dial out to an ISDN-equipped Internet Service Provider (I used The Microsoft Network) was simple. Front Desk includes a driver disk that sets up modems named "Front Desk Line 1" and "Front Desk Line 2." With sophisticated call handling and a built-in ISDN modem, Jetstream offers professional-quality, easy-to-operate telephony features that will give your one-person office the polish of a large corporation.
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.