back to article IT phone home: How to run up a $20K bill in two days and get away with it by blaming Cisco

Gentle reader, once again it is time to cushion your landing into the working week with Who, Me? – The Register's weekly chronicle of people having a worse day than you. Hopefully. This week meet a man we'll Regomize as "Elliot" whose story comes from a long-ago almost forgotten time when ISDN was the latest and greatest way …

  1. Sam not the Viking Silver badge

    Every good deed....

    I went to commission some large machinery for a waterworks, drawing water from a river for treatment. All the important people were there, including the end-user and his consultants. All went well and the consultants remarked how good their concept had been, hardly using any energy. I went to have a look at the electricity meters which indeed were turning much slower than expected. A gentle 'tap' on the side of the meter sent them spinning away at a more likely rate; much to the embarrassment of the consultant and dismay by the end-user/payer......

    "I wish you hadn't done that."

    Further percussion did not revert the rate. Good job for us though ---->

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Every good deed....

      So you're saying the current readings are higher than before

  2. Rikki Tikki

    "Flagfall was not so much an issue, but the international ISDN calls at four dollars a minute added up pretty quickly."

    Tell that to kids these days and they won't believe you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Maybe they will if they travel.

      I just noticed that the packages of Orange in Belgium include free local calls, and free calls in Europe, but with a little evil catch:

      Call from Belgium to anywhere in Europe are NOT free. None of their packages offer it, but it's phrased in such a way that it appears as if they're talking about out-of-Europe calls so your first incling of this deception is when you get an alert of out-of-package spend, and when you get the bill it's hard to work out where exactly that occurred - it's one of the most interesting games of obfuscation I've ever seen.

      I haven't had time yet to report this, but I think I will, just to see the excuses fly back and forth (and to see who they have to bribe to keep this scam going as it's Belgium, after all).

      1. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

        I've seen this with operators in all countries. When roaming, they will allow you to phone to any country included in your roaming package, but $DEITY forbid that you try to phone to one of these countries from your home location without incurring international charges. If you need to make regular calls to Country B from country A, it's often cheaper to buy a package with a SIM from country B including roaming in country A.

      2. H in The Hague

        "Call from Belgium to anywhere in Europe are NOT free."

        Our elderly Dutch friend had that on his landline, so calling his son living in Germany got a bit expensive.

        I realised he didn't really use his mobile phone, just had it for emergencies. So I checked his mobile contract (only EUR 15 or so per month), turns out that includes unlimited free calls from NL to anywhere in Europe. (And, obviously, free roaming in the EU, but that's less relevant to him.)

        Saved him quite a lot of money and a positive side-effect is that now uses his mobile every day, so remembers to charge it and will be able to use it in an emergency.

        1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

          Isn't that Configured Backwards?

          I would expect a landline, with central-office batteries+Diesel generators power-backup and plain telco-provided phone (vs. a requires-mains-power-via-wall-wart-adaptor) would be far a more-reliable "backup" in a civil emergency than a cell phone. Cell towers' backup batteries have much-less run-time than the central office batteries+Diesel generators.

          Or, were you referring to emergencies such as auto-crashes, where your cell phone is on your person, at the site of the crash, and your fixed, land-line phone is still at home?

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Isn't that Configured Backwards?

            It could be either type of emergencies. For example, if there is damage to the wire bringing your phone connection to your house, which could be caused by a variety of things, then your mobile phone will still work in an emergency of that nature (yes, its wires can be damaged as well, but they likely have more backups than you do and if that tower fails, there's likely another one in range that can be used instead). If an emergency happens that involves both systems operating on backup power, then the landline can be the emergency option if the batteries run down as expected.

            1. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: Isn't that Configured Backwards?

              Ummm, in my town there is no longer any landline service at all.

          2. PRR Silver badge

            Re: Isn't that Configured Backwards?

            > I would expect a landline, with central-office batteries+Diesel generators power-backup and plain telco-provided phone ....would be far a more-reliable "backup" in a civil emergency than a cell phone. Cell towers' backup batteries have much-less run-time than the central office batteries+Diesel generators.

            It depends. Here in the woods of Maine, the phone lines are very old, and the lines and the landline business have been decaying like lobster-shucks in the sun. In 10 years we have had three different 'incumbent' companies, each lower-bid than the last (but the rates keep going up-- TBH, some of that is tax/fees). And almost every year a month+ long period when the phone won't ring, or rings then drops the line, or no dial-tone, or static like epileptic woodpeckers on the line. Mostly due to old and un-maintained line expanders. Which is a box at the end of the road to wedge a few 1980s lines into the saturated 1940s infrastructure; can't get parts no more. And the box is only a few feet off a now busy road to/from the beer store, so I'm waiting for someone to jeep-smack it.

            OTOH the cellphone here used to be so poor that we'd stand in the driveway to find one bar. Over the years new towers sprouted and we learned more who was on which side of the hills and what their low-price brand is.

            Oh, and the side-of-road location of our landline expanders means they don't stay-up in a power failure any better than the cell-stuff. Worse because the batteries are older.

            So it depends.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Isn't that Configured Backwards?

            I would expect a landline, with central-office batteries+Diesel generators power-backup and plain telco-provided phone (vs. a requires-mains-power-via-wall-wart-adaptor) would be far a more-reliable "backup" in a civil emergency than a cell phone.

            The problem is that that power in modern connections actually no longer gets to the phone on account of glas fibre not being terribly conductive, and the premise box is generally only powered by domestic power. It already got an earlier hit by the pervasiveness of DECT phones which suffer from the same lack of resilience. Yes, I recall the days where you as a business were required to have at least one old fashioned line powered phone for emergencies, but I'm not even sure that is now mandatory anymore because of the above.

            The other reason why cell towers are now more important is because they can be set to exclusively allow a list of phones in case of emergencies, something that has been used quite a bit in London. Not all emergencies come with a power outage, but all of them come with an urgent communication need, and mobiles have the advantage that they can also make send and receive images.

            In short, I think time has caught up with the line powered phones. As a matter of fact, I know lots of people who don't even bother having a fixed line anymore.

            1. Not Yb Bronze badge

              Re: Isn't that Configured Backwards?

              We finally got a good landline connection when lightning struck the phone cable hard enough to short and/or open it in dozens of places all the way back to the bigger lines. They finally had to replace the 25yo cable with a new more modern one, and surprise, our phone now still works in a rainstorm instead of shorting through the cable somewhere.

              They pulled the old, "send the tech out when it isn't raining to test an intermittent fault caused by rain and of course didn't find any problem" trick for decades.

              1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

                Re: Isn't that Configured Backwards?

                You're lucky the copper was replaced. Some phone companies are not replacing copper anymore, and there is currently a push to end TDM services like the DS1s and DS3S I work on. In probably another 5 years, no more than 10, I expect that the phone companies will start decommissioning the voice switches that make use of copper lines altogether. But I will be happily retired by then, and it will no longer be my problem.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Isn't that Configured Backwards?

            Here in Australia, often the cellular networks are the most reliable. When we have had large bushfires rip through they havd often ended up destroying the all overhead power and communications cables. Yes the Cellular towers have a short runtime but they can if not destoryed in the fire be up and running quickly with a generator delivered and using their microware backhaul. The overhead poles and wires are much much harder to repaire / replace.

          5. Xalran

            Re: Isn't that Configured Backwards?

            That depends where your cell tower is located and how critical it is.

            If it's a multidirectional ( parse : 360° ) antenna tucked on top of a dead pine tree deep in an Alpine valley in France that see people only 6 month per year ( in summer ), there's no battery.

            ( been there, seen it, It was only providing 2G at that time, apparently it's been upgraded to provide 4G/5G ( only ) now, but it's probably still on top of the dead tree and without battery )

            If it's on top of a building that hosts one or more PSTN switches, you can expect full one day battery + generator ( maybe natural gas, directly connected to the pipe in the street, but most probably diesel with several weeks worth of fuel )

    2. Roger Greenwood

      They might believe it if they try to visit Japan. Visitors from UK on Three network:- £2/min for calls + £3/MB for data.

      1. Outski

        I managed to rack up a 1k ringgit bill during just one week in China from my colleague calling me to see how a job was going. Reimbursement came out of his budget within an hour of me getting back to the KL office...

        Needed a few of these --->

      2. quartzie

        Actual EU benefit

        It has long been a standing recommendation when visiting east asian countries to buy a local burner SIM card instead, which gets vastly better pricing than whatever roaming service you choose.

        EU-roaming price ceiling has been one of the (few?) tangible benefits of EU regulations, which limited the price gouging when travelling within the 27 states.

        1. tip pc Silver badge

          Re: Actual EU benefit

          ID mobile, i can use my allowance in Europe at no extra cost.

          20GB for £8 per month, united rolls, rolling 1 month, i'll be changing to the 30GB for £8 at some point, not that i need to.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Actual EU benefit

          I'm kind of partial to chicken without ratshit on it as a result of EU regulations, there's quite a few more

          1. rcxb Silver badge

            Re: Actual EU benefit

            I'm kind of partial to chicken without ratshit on it as a result of EU regulations

            Oh? You prefer your ratshit on the side, then?

          2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: Actual EU benefit

            I quite like my lasangna without horse. How'd that go for ya?

            1. hoopsa

              Re: Actual EU benefit

              It didn't do my Tesco shares any good, I can tell you.

            2. This post has been deleted by its author

            3. BartyFartFast

              Re: Actual EU benefit

              Pretty well, EU laws specifically prohibited it and the perpetrators got prosecuted and heavily fined.

              People break laws, get caught and punished, when your food safety laws *allow* specified quantities of ratshit in your food then you know you're eating ratshit.

              How's it taste?

      3. saxicola

        I believe it's possible to buy a SIM card in Japan offering a fixed time deal for unlimited data. Not cheap but it you are using you phone for translate often it would be worth it.

        Ah! Just re-found it: Sakura Mobile is one of several.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

    At the time, I worked for a consultancy who had developed a product to be installed in some test pharmacies in the US.

    On arrival there I did a final inspection of the gear and found it had a virus infection. I spent quite some time on my company phone with our support guys in the UK getting rid of the damn thing (because it was test gear there wasn't a backup, and because I was supposed to only install them I didn't carry anything with me for a backup myself and it was the weekend). There was no way I was going to install a virus infested system into a HIPAA compliant network, so it either had to be fixed or I was coming back to the UK with the units.

    This was in the days of the mass ripoff of phone customers, so when I returned I ended up with a £1k bill, which the company refused to pay back - taking the opportunity to get some payback for me being in the last weeks as I resigned (yes, they were that petty).

    Revenge is best enjoyed cold, though, as I am now looking at some very large projects, so guess who doesn't get to bid? Saved a grand, so now lost a few million.

    I can be petty too..

    1. Fred Daggy Silver badge

      Re: I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

      Do they know they have not been invited to bid? And why and by Who? (Kick them while they are down).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

        I have been toying with that idea, yes.


        1. sanmigueelbeer

          Re: I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

          No, do not let them know.

          They will spend a lot of money knocking up a bid if you do not let them know. Let them keep guessing why their bid got disqualified.

    2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

      Please don't forget that assessing bids there must be an objective approach to this. Usually this includes scoring.

      It's quite possible to add a line reading "bidder is untrusted" with a nice high negative metric ensuring that they don't get far.... :)

      1. UCAP Silver badge

        Re: I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

        When assessing bids - I agree. However the OP implies that it was a closed bidding process (you have to be invited to bid, unsolicited bids will be circular-filed) and his former employer is not on the invitation list.

    3. abetancort

      Re: I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

      My rule for business if you don’t have a company phone and there are going to be charges, call collect or call me back procedure. It avoids all after the fact discussions about any bill with company.

    4. David Nash

      Re: I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

      You were using a company phone on company business and the company wouldn't pay the bill? How did they attempt to justify that?

      Did you make a claim in the court after you had resigned?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I had the reverse: a legit bill being refused

        No, they derisked their exposure by forcing people to be responsible for the bill - you expensed it after you received the bill, the theory being that there was enough time between bill and payment due date that expenses could be paid out (notice the thus added pressure to file your expenses as soon as possible). Ditto with the company credit card, and if we didn't spend on their card we didn't get the expenses back. The excuse was that they could only process it via the card, but as far as I could tell it was really because they got a rather firm kickback via another route (there is no sane reason to use AMEX IMHO because all the fancy rewards are financed by hitting the retailer harder with transaction fees so many stopped accepting it).

        Frankly, I was glad to leave that outfit. When I joined it was quite good, but then some 'revenue maximisers' stepped in and ethics and decency went to hell.

  4. Korev Silver badge


    I'm slightly sad that the headline wasn't "WAN things go bad" or "WAN things get expensive"

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Headline

      At least not 'WAN king of the road' or similar...

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Headline

        Superb -->

  5. TonyJ

    Mobile dongle and ISDN

    I had a sales colleague back around 2008/2009 who loved tennis.

    He happened to be abroad at the time of Wimbledon so used his USB dongle to connect and watch hours of tennis.

    Shortly after arriving home, he was confronted with a £27,000 mobile bill. He just said "well no one told me I couldn't use it abroad and I can't afford that so you'll either have to pay it or sack me". Since he was their top earning salesman they sucked it up and paid it but as you can imagine, there was a rather strongly worded email came around shortly afterwards.

    Even earlier than that, back in the mid/late 1990's we had a couple of sites that used ISDN for backup. They'd been in years and in fairness rarely ever used.

    We came to do our annual failover test and...nothing.

    A bit of investigation later and we found that the head of personnel who got all the phone bills had looked at them for some time and decided "hey these expensive ISDN things are never used so I can save some money for the business..." and had them terminated. Of course, he never asked anyone... <sigh>.

    Mind you, I will raise a glass to him and his team because they were a true personnel department - they worked on behalf of the staff not the business. In fact, I think that was the last place I worked that had a personnel department before they all became HR departments.

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

      My work is in a place where you can get three countries' phone signals. When iPhones were new and shiny, people loved doing new and cool things like streaming videos. Those working near the border often had their phones flip over to another country's network leading to some massive bills...

      1. disgruntled yank

        Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN


        A co-worker got some complaints about his international use of a phone, when as far as he knew he had not left the US. He had gone on a boat tour along the Detroit River, and there were spots where his phone connected to a Canadian cell rather than an American one. Our boss grumbled, but did approve the bill.

        1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

          Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

          I had the reverse happen. Can't recall whether I've told this story...

          While driving along a rural, low-traffic section of Southern Ontario's Highway 401 late one night, I had reason to call 911 (Emergency Services). Not yet an actual emergency, but could easily have become one if not taken care of -- road debris big enough to cause a serious accident, and it was black, so easy not to spot at night.

          I tried to describe where the problem was, but the operator wasn't getting it -- she didn't recognize any of the landmarks I gave. It was a frustrating minute or two -- for her as well, I presume.

          I can't recall which of us twigged first: my phone had roamed and I was talking to one of New York State's 911 operators across the lake. I'm sure she had a really good mental map of her chunk of New York. Ontario? Not so much.

          I was already in a service center's parking lot, so after apologizing, I went inside and placed my call on a (wired) pay phone. And then turned off roaming on my cell phone.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

        This is why I have roaming turned off on my phones. I'm not near enough to a border to set it off very often, but I figure it's much easier for me to manually enable that if I travel than to ever hit it by accident. I'm not sure how highly they would charge me if I did use roaming, but I can see the charges for international calls to countries they haven't zero-rated and if it's anything like that, I'll be avoiding roaming when I can.

        1. Down not across

          Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

          Whilst your phone may happily roam with multiple operators there can be big differences in charges. Choosing operator to roam with manually could save a lot of money.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

        and there's me thinking you must be in Cornwall!

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

      Back in the day, when the best upload speed you could expect from ADSL was about 256k, my boss decided to get an SDSL line (Symmetric, rather than Asymmetric), which was a blistering 2MB both ways. (Better solutions were at least 100 times more expensive, and out of our budget).

      This worked pretty well for a while (paired with an ADSL line to cover staff web browsing), until one day it stopped working for no obvious reason.

      After a lot of back and forth, it turned out that we were one of only three other customers in the South West using SDSL. Consequently, most of Open Reach's staff had never seen such a thing, and so one soul, seeing what looked to them like an incorrectly wired ADSL line, took it upon themselves to 'fix' it.

      IIRC it took a couple of days for them to find someone who knew how to wire it back up.

      1. johnfbw

        Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

        I had a similar argument with Plusnet every time my FTTP went down - they insisted that FTTP didn't exist and I must be confused

        1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

          Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

          It's amazing how often people equate "I haven't heard of that" with "there's no such thing".

          1. sanmigueelbeer

            Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

            I haven't heard of that theory before.

            Has anyone?

            1. jonathan keith

              Re: Mobile dongle and ISDN

              I don't think it's been invented here.

  6. Alan J. Wylie

    Microsoft "Active Desktop"

    I had a similar problem, sometime about 1997. Microsoft had introduced Active Desktop, which "allowed users to add HTML content to the desktop". This content came over the Internet, even if there was nobody sitting in front of the computer overnight. Our ISDN bill shot up until we worked out what was going on.

    1. DarkwavePunk

      Re: Microsoft "Active Desktop"

      Argh! I worked for a small ISP back when that horrible web push content became all the rage. Given the Internet industry pricing for peering in Australia at the time the bills went wild for a bit. We pinned down the problem and stomped on it fairly quickly. Ashen-faced bean-counters was mildly amusing though.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Microsoft "Active Desktop"

      "This content came over the Internet, even if there was nobody sitting in front of the computer overnight."

      So did the electricity. If you're not using it, switch it off.

  7. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

    Ah, yes.

    Known as "3D phone-bills" in a marketing message I put out, back in the day.

    I'd just started out freelancing doing various networking stuff, and a lot of companies were being sold ethernet bridges with ISDN dial-on-demand to link sites together. Which resulted in exactly this, if you didn't very carefully set up the network devices to block broadcast and multicast traffic.

    I made a good living following around after bigger networking companies and fixing this sort of cock-up. Simpler, far-off days...


  8. chivo243 Silver badge

    Thanks for the Monday pick me up

    I'll be phoning home now, Elliot!!

    +1 for the Extraterrestrial reference! And have a bag of Reese's Pieces for later!

  9. stungebag

    Not just in the office

    I had ISDN at home and a new laptop configured by my employer. I worked from home a couple of days a week, and often left the device switched on at evenings/weekends. After about a month the postman knocked and handed me an A4-sized parcel about two inches thick. It was my itemised phone bill. The laptop had been sent out with IPX/SPX installed which was firing up a data circuit and trying to make a connection every minute. Or perhaps it was every second. In any case it led to many thousands of very short calls, each of them billed at a far higher rate than their length would suggest due to a minimum connection charge.

    I can't remember how large that bill was but it was sufficient to get the company to reconfigure networking on that PC very quickly indeed.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The good old days :)

    I remember installing a device from 3Com called an ISDN LANModem at home, which was a four port hub with a built-in ISDN modem, capable of dialling the ISP on-demand. HUGE risk of massive phone bills, but it was amazing being able to use dialup internet across home and work PCs at the same time.

    On the phone bills - there was the engineer who installed a server under his desk, hooked up to an ISDN-2 line that was installed to dial in to customer locations. He and his buddies ran up HUGE bills dialling premium rate porn BBS' via that server before it was taken away from them. It was also completely infested with virii. And of course there was the guy who worked out he could forward a random desk phone at the office to his girlfriend halfway around the world and call her for cheap. Of course, he didn't factor in access logs to work out who was setting/clearing the forward...

    Anonymous to spare my former employer blushes ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The good old days :)

      Years ago we had a story go round the company that one of the cleaners had discovered that manager's phones had international calls enabled (something barred to the vast majority of us poor plebs) and had started calling his family back home. This snowballed in to him acting as a 'telephone exchange' for other expats, with him holding the handsets of 2 phones together

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: The good old days :)

        Students at the university I used to work for discovered the 'emergency phone' in the lift had no barring on it, unlike virtually all user's phones, so started making international calls from there!

        How quaint in these days of fixed-price and fast(ish, depending on where you live) broadband and VoIP...

        1. H in The Hague

          Re: The good old days :)

          "Students at the university I used to work for discovered the 'emergency phone' in the lift had no barring on it, unlike virtually all user's phones, so started making international calls from there!"

          I'm aware of at least one establishment where the emergency phones didn't have a dial (remember those?) to avoid such abuse. However, by quickly operating the on/off hook switch you could do pulse dialling and still make outgoing calls.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The good old days :)

            I remember that! Back in the days there were places that had an "incoming calls only" phone with the dial removed. Tap-taptap-taptaptap-tap...

          2. cweinhold

            Re: The good old days :)

            Pulse dialing by hand from the switch? That's incredible! That makes those guys with the 2600Hz toy whistles seem like script kiddies.

            1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

              Re: The good old days :)

              Manual pulse dialling....

              I first learned about this in some Sunday afternoon family drama (ITV IIRC), about a family held hostage in a hotel or something, towards the end the family were able to dial 999 by typing the handset rests.

            2. swm

              Re: The good old days :)

              I just got a fiber for internet/phone. Now my dial [sic] telephone doesn't work.

              1. The Organ Grinder's Monkey

                Re: The good old days :)

                From "british" (which might formerly have been "bobstelephonesite"):

                From 2022 onwards there is a national conversion of all UK telephone lines to Voice Over IP working. For those with old phones this means that dials will not work, as no provider is supporting pulse dial signalling. To allow old dial phones to continue working a pulse to tone converter must be purchased. These are a simple plug in unit to will convert the dial pulses into tones, which is what the new system requires:


                links to a page explaining the problem. Scroll down to:

                "Phones that work with Dials or early keypads"

                & click the link below.

                (Full disclosure, I'm not affiliated in any way, etc, & haven't yet tested the device in question, but will be at some point.)


            3. Not Yb Bronze badge

              Re: The good old days :)

              It was not too bad if you avoided phone numbers higher than about 4. This may still work on some phone lines, though by now it's probably emulated instead of running very complex relay systems.

          3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: The good old days :)

            At my university, a pair of crocodile clips and a spare handset was all that was needed.

            Who, me?

    2. Rob Daglish

      Re: The good old days :)

      Oh good grief, I remember those 3Com units...

      I seem to remember there was a limit of 8 devices that could use the internet through them, no matter what subnet mask you used.

      I had a colleague who slightly earlier than that had a BBC Model B connected to two modems in the office. He'd dial in on one from his house (local call) and ring a far off city to make an internet connection (national call), so our employer got the bill for it. Mind you, I don't think there was anyone outside our team that would have been smart enough to figure that one out!

      We also had a shedload of Cisco 801 routers at the time which were supposed to dial an 0820 number, which meant schools weren't charged for the calls between 8AM and 6PM Monday to Friday. However, it wasn't unknown for BT to screw it up so you couldn't call them (ISDN line had to be registered with the ISP/BT to be able to dial the 0820) and someone would put the normal 0845 number in to test it, and forget to take it out again - saw some lovely multi-thousand pound bills generated that way. In reference to GJC's comment above, I think most companies round here invested in a time switch on the router rather than actually fixing all the things that caused dial-outs...

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: The good old days :)

        I had a colleague who slightly earlier than that had a BBC Model B connected to two modems in the office. He'd dial in on one from his house (local call) and ring a far off city to make an internet connection (national call), so our employer got the bill for it. Mind you, I don't think there was anyone outside our team that would have been smart enough to figure that one out!

        I used to live in a house where one of the students ran a College's webserver etc, he convinced them that he needed to be able to dial in and had a modem fitted. As NTL had a local calls are free policy then we had always-on Internet for nothing

      2. Sandtitz Silver badge

        Re: The good old days :)

        "Oh good grief, I remember those 3Com units..."

        "I seem to remember there was a limit of 8 devices that could use the internet through them, no matter what subnet mask you used."

        I have but good memories of the 3c891A with many of my clients - from 1996 or so until 1999 or so (hazy). Then DSL came and ISDN became obsolete.

        That's the story in Finland at least.

        The unit had a 25 user limit and I thought it was only because the WAN link is obviously limited to 64k or 128k, so the performance would be rather lousy for everyone even at the 25 user limit.

        It was easy to setup, and you could just save a special URL in office users' browser Favorites or as the home page, and let them control the usage.

        PS. I still have somewhere my FSOL ISDN CD.

  11. Sammy Smalls

    Happened to me

    We were opening a new office and the boss didnt want to pay for a leased line, so decided to do ISDN. Before the new office was commissioned we decided to test between 2 local offices. Said boss marched down and said 'what's this £5k bill for'. When he found out it was for call charges, we got our 2Mb line. Oh, and a fibre for the local offices.

    Anyone remember Sonix Arpeggio plus/lite? Happy days.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Happened to me

      Yes, remember a customer getting an itemised bill delivered via a tail lift truck as there were 100's of boxes on pallets. Firmware issue, Sonix paid the bill for this and many other customers in a similar situation.

      1. Grogan Silver badge

        Re: Happened to me

        LOL... now that's funny. Tail lift truck shows up from the post office instead of your usual knobby kneed mail carrier, and you're all WTF. "This is your phone bill"

        1. Great Southern Land

          Re: Happened to me

          This guy would sympathise.....

  12. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Ah, the good'ol days..

    ISDN was often mocked as standing for "Integrated Still Don't kNow, but the Integrated Services Digital Network offered blazing-fast speeds up to 128 kilobits per second.

    Never heard it called that, but more usually "Invention Subscribers Don't Need". First encounted it back in the late '80s while working for the Phone Company. Engineer turned up to install a line in our comms room. No idea who ordered it, or why, untill discovering that every site was to get an ISDN line because nobody else was ordering them and it made the installation numbers look a little better. We got told we could use it for a Group 4 fax machine. Then told we couldn't requisition one of those because nobody else was using them. When I left, it still had a post-it over the socket saying 'Not a POT'.

    I don't think the UK had a flag charge, but we had a thing called 'telegraphing', which was to abuse the D-channel signalling to send data that the billing system at the time didn't measure. A well-known POS credit card terminal provider used that loophole, despite grumblings from the Phone Company, and I think later, Oftel. Other shenanigans came from the good'ol 0845 ISPs. At the time, 0845 numbers had a revenue sharing agreement between wholesaler and service provider. That had tarriffs for short and long duration calls, partly as an anti-telegraphing measure, and from memory, the outpayment was something like 2.4p/min for long duration, and 4p/min for short.

    Ever wondered why there used to be so many authentication failures on good'ol dial-up ISPs? Call connects, billing triggers, RADIUS says 'nope', and collect those pennies..

    Also used to hate ISDN backup solutions, especially when one large telco decided it would be a GoodIdea(tm) for us to pick up the costs of customer's ISDN calls when their leased lines went down. Took a while to convince the product manager that this was a risk, and to add an alert to the fault management system when ISDN lines were activated. Also had a lot of fun with unmanaged 'solutions', but quickly came up with a boiler plate response for users complaining their bills were so high. This was long before MS's auto-update attempts to phone home, or spam telemetry, but MS has always been very chatty with broadcasts and various discovery packets hitting dial router interfaces and bringing up the ISDN lines.. Which is still a big issue with telemetry spam, but mostly a cost issue for mobile Internet devices. Still amazes me that regulators haven't stomped on that one, but then mobile operators make a lot of money when they charge for data usage, and don't give customers control over their devices to disable all that junk.

    1. BenDwire Silver badge

      Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

      Back in the very early 1980's I worked in the development labs for a large telecommunications provider to BT where we invented such things as System X, Kilostream and Megastream. One of my uni cohorts was assigned to this little LTU (Line Terminating Unit) project and was charged with getting the power supply to operate correctly over all specified cable lengths. After a few days of him having a very grumpy demeanour we christened ISDN as "It Still Does Nothing" and that is what it will always mean to this old greybeard.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

        "It Still Does Nothing"

        But obviously not true. It racks up charges, that's what it does.

        1. cweinhold

          Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

          When working properly, ISDN did GREAT things. ISDN backup could kick in so fast that connections wouldn't drop or stall. That was a lifesaver for order-taking agents, bank tellers, and call centers were money was on the line.

          Ironically, the place where ISDN had the biggest impact on humanity was with radio broadcasting. You could always tell when a news interview or a sports play-by-play was being carried over a muffled analog phone line or a crystal clear ISDN line. Every sports arena, news room, government office, and radio broadcaster in the world had ISDN lines just for that. In fact, it wasn't until Covid-19 forced those broadcasters home that ISDN was replaced with VoIP.

          1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

            Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

            We also had a good experience with it. For a ten'ish-person office, an ISDN line was a perfectly satisfactory Internet link.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

            Ah, that THAT is why Raspberry Pis suddenly became so hard to get retail!!!

          3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

            In fact, it wasn't until Covid-19 forced those broadcasters home that ISDN was replaced with VoIP.

            Arguably a step back. One of the reasons I loved my job was meeting clients who did neat things like this. One was a radio station (or collection of local stations) that showed me their studio. It had the usual things I expected, like a studio booths.. But no broadcasters in them. It did have servers running playlists that the presentation team could use to build their shows, and control all that from their home or just a remote studio. ISDN was great for that given B-channel bandwidth and voice clarity, and being able to isolate the data components. Client was considering 'upgrading' to VoIP, and after looking at how they were running it, my advice was "Don't", at least not yet. Sure, you can use uncompressed codecs that give ISDN-equivalent quality, but you're at the mercy of a packet-based network with all the congestion risks.

            It was one of those bellhead vs nethead things. At the time, networks were being built for quality, reliability and determinism, ie circuit or channel switched using tech like ISDN and ATM.. But then along came TCP/IP that didn't (and still doesn't) deliver most of those things. And the next big thing is SDN, which is essentially trying to restore ATM-like capability back to the transmission layer.

          4. Cian_

            Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

            The radio station I worked for had just changed to IP units in late 2019 - to replace temporary ISDN lines (which were getting costly); and analogue Band I links from an OB truck.

            This meant that getting people kitted out to work from home in March 2020 was so much easier.

            I'd also just replaced the firewall setup with one that didn't have a per-user fee for VPN clients; for a completely unconnected reason to that; a few weeks beforehand; and the parent firm had finished their on-prem to Google Cloud email migration in December 2019.

            Incredible amount of coincidence made the first few weeks of COVID a hell of a lot less panicked for me as for nearly everyone else working in the same job!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

      That D-channel signalling was offered as a proper service at one point and was used by a number of cashpoint/card terminal providers to provide their service

      (I vaguely recall something like 'packet switched' (X25?), you got 9600bps and your cost was for data usage not for a call, so pennies rather than connection charge + min 3 min duration)


        Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

        I seem to remember before ADSL was a thing (and we were all obssessed with modem speeds) that if you had an ISDN link fitted that there was a side channel running at a tiny amount of bandwidth but was always on regardless if the actual main channel was active. With said side channel you could have a permanent if v small free internet link with which you could up/down email etc. I never did it but was always intrigued, is this the same thing as "D-channel signalling" ?

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

          I never did it but was always intrigued, is this the same thing as "D-channel signalling" ?

          Yup, but you weren't allowed to play. So ISDN generally presented as a BRI (Basic Rate Interface) with 2B+D where the B channels are 64Kbps, and the D channel 16Kbps. You couldn't normally do anything with the D channel because that was the Phone Company's playground and 'reserved' for signalling. In a practical sense, even though customers occasionally asked why they couldn't use the 16Kbps they were 'paying for', the answer was No, because you're paying for the 2B service. In practice it was to avoid people doing weird things that could potentially upset switches and interconnects and eat into engineer's beer & sleep time.

          However.. It was also an X.25 thing, and data over the D channel was 'standardised' in X.31, and implemented in a few places. So Racal twigged that they could use X.31 for small, transactional data services (EPOS) and avoid call charges. Then also took a risk that EPOS would take off and offered the service to card companies at a modest fee per transaction (from memory, around 0.2p) and created quite the cash machine when transaction volumes ran at tens of millions a day. I think that generated enough to for Racal to seed a small mobile venture called 'Vodafone'. Was an interesting place, especially given the occasional opportunity to ask Racal Research if they could make us a test voice call generator for a VoIP project or other stuff. A few days later, a walkman in a box with some multiplexing arrived. Sadly, the idea of using neural nets for making a firewall didn't get as far because the stuff they were doing with those was heavily classified.

        2. Xalran

          Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

          yes the D Channel was always active since it carries the signalling ( the messages to make the terminal ring when somebody try to phone you ), the 2 64K B channels were only used for calls.

          ( note : for the US people it's 56K not 64. )

          1. Adrian Harvey

            Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

            ( note : for the US people it's 56K not 64. )

            Not strictly true - the US B channel standard was still 64 bit, but they stole 1 bit from every 6th byte to use for signalling. Giving 62.666kbps. Ok for voice where the loss of the least significant bit from the occasional byte was imperceptible, but, as you know, if you can’t sync with the stream to know which bits will be robbed, you wind up having to treat every byte as 7-bit and you max out at 56k usable. .

      2. Xalran

        Re: Ah, the good'ol days..

        128K as described in the story is a what is called a base access and the 128K comes from the 2B channels, the D Channel ( signalling ) was not used, if it is used speed go up to 144K. ( the D Channel on a Base access is 16K )

    3. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

      ISDN acronym

      I knew it as, "It Still Doesn't Network."

  13. GlenP Silver badge


    Back in the day we had a demand from senior management to connect a Dutch office to our UK AS/400 (via 5250 terminal emulation on a PC). We did warn them about the costs but it "must be done"!

    The only viable option at the time was ISDN, there was no way they'd provide the funding for leased lines at each end. Despite being told otherwise they'd naively assumed the connection would only be up whilst the user was actually typing.

    3 Months later the Dutch were restricted to only connecting for a couple of hours a day due to the high bills, which didn't last long, they found an alternative workaround.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many, many years ago when the Internet was much fresher, we dipped our toes with LAN access using Demon Internet and a device called Instant Internet. It shouldn't have cost too much as the line was supposed to drop after five minutes of inactivity.

    However, either Demon or the Instant Internet (I can't remember which) was sending a keep alive or was checking for email every five minutes and so the line never dropped and the call charges were much higher than expected.

    Took quite a while to track it down.

  15. jmch Silver badge

    Not ISDN...

    Enjoying the ancient "oops I've run up a 5-figure++ bill by accident" from the times of ISDN and early roaming days.

    I'm wondering how many simlair modern stories there are involving badly configured cloud implementations....

    1. Woza

      Re: Not ISDN...

      *raises hand*

      About five years ago, I spun up an AWS "free" instance to host some short-lived thing for my cricket club - damned if I can remember what now. Anyway, forgot the thing was running and ended up with a nasty shock at the end of the month when the bill arrived.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Not ISDN...

        I spun up an AWS "free" instance to host some short-lived thing for my cricket club .... and ended up with a nasty shock at the end of the month when the bill arrived.

        So you're saying the bill bowled you over?

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Not ISDN...

          Yeah, it knocked him for 6 because he didn't know where the boundaries were. Silly middon!!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    mobile roaming story

    Not so long ago, back to before EU removed (more or less) all roaming charges intra-EU, a colleague (swiss SIM) had to work from Luxemburg for a month.

    Before moving there, he failed to register to roaming costs and apparently did quite a bit of YT or similar data service on his pro phone.

    And our pro SIMs were NOT capped.

    When the bill arrived at our company (some 30 kCHF), the bosses were not really pleased. I think he still has the record of a mobile bill in this company !

    It made him famous.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back in the olden days...

    I was handed a telephone book sized phone bill and asked to investigate why that phone line had been clocking up calls of precisely 2880 mins every 2 days. It took a while before the penny dropped that 2880 is 60x24x2, so the maximum that BT could count before resetting.

    The line turned out to be the automatic dial backup line for a 9600bps leased line that had failed (and was STILL failed) that no one had noticed. I think the company got a rebate for the failed leased line but I don't think that covered the cost of the phone bill

  18. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

    Bloomberg downloads

    When I was working for $BIG_BANK, we used to download Bloomberg 'Per Security' market data all the time. Not only on Production servers (where they were legitimately needed), but also on many non-prod environments, daily via crontab but sometimes several times a day on demand as we were testing our scripts. Well these subscriptions ain't cheap, as we found out during a review of our expenses. Fortunately in these times money wasn't so much an issue, so instead of "WTF have we wasted all this money downloading n-plicate files?", this was turned into brilliant opportunity "Hey, we could make some real savings just by copying the files from Prod everywhere we need them!" and the bosses were happy.

    1. David Nash

      Re: Bloomberg downloads

      Did the license allow this? Sounds like the kind of thing they would explicitly ban!

  19. bregister


    Long ago I worked in a company where a user had a great idea, to use a printer down the corridor.

    They were in Sydney, Australia and print jobs were sent from there via California USA and back to Sydney.

    Pricey. Nobody ever explained why those print jobs had to go half-way around the world either.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: Printing

      How else would the NSA get to see what you were printing?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ISDN = 128k

    Erm... 128k is with both channels up, so that's double the cost of a single phone call

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: ISDN = 128k

      Dual channel configs were very common as back up links. Many of ours would fire up 8 or 16 channels.

      Given the choice between close on £100,000 / hour penalties or ISDN costs,it was a no brainer

  21. big_D Silver badge


    I remember being in the UK and I had an ISDN line at home. Then broadband came along. BT said, nope, no dice, ISDN is not compatible with ADSL, you'll need to convert your line back to an analogue line and then we can add ADSL to it...

    A few months later, I moved to Germany, where it was, "you want ADSL? You need ISDN in order to have that." Whilst BT was still busy trying to rub two sticks together, those crafty Germans had learnt to how to have your cake and eat it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ISDNot

      But it was more like having 7/8ths of the cake, as the ADSL variant for ISDN achieved compatibility at the cost of losing upstream spectrum and thus your maximum upstream speed would be reduced.

      Since ISDN was not all that popular for UK consumer/small businesses, BT's decision made sense for their network, and as it was more popular in Germany, DT's decision made sense for them too. Neither is really "wrong", but if you didn't care about ISDN then BT's version was the cake/eating it...

      Will be inconvenient for the BT bashing brigade but there we are.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: ISDNot

        We had 50 down, 25 up... It was good enough, until fibre came along.

  22. Geoff May (no relation)

    I thought ISDN stood for It Still Does Nothing.

  23. big_D Silver badge

    Who's there?

    I had a couple of similar experiences.

    I was working for a company that had a Siemens HiPath telephone system (branded as Telekom Octopus). There was a bug in the voicemail system, which is not properly configured, allowed someone to dial in and get on the voicemail, then use the system to dial back out again. Some scammers found our telephone system and started selling slots on it, racking up a 5-figure phone bill in a couple of day - they started Friday evening & the Telekom shut off the lines Sunday evening.

    When we got to work, the phones were dead and emails from the Telekom had arrived. We eventually got the lines restored & spoke to their hotline. They told us the PABX was wrongly configured. We said, we weren't going to pay the bill. They said we would have to, but we could try talking to the company that installed the telephone system and try and get them to pay part or all of the bill... Which is where we dropped the trump card, the Telekom had installed the system themselves and it was under maintenance with them as well, so no excuses! No bill to pay.

    Back in the late 80s, early 90s, I worked at a site which had a bunch of VAXes with modems. One operator was playing MUD on the Essex Uni system. He was alone on nightshift & his friends were all sleping, what is one to do? Start a full team on a row of terminals, each on a different VAX each dialing into Essex... Over the course of a couple of nights, he managed to rack up a 4 figure phone bill, not bad going for the early 90s!

    He was very lucky, one of his regular playing buddies was the manager who was in charge of the modems and the phone bill. He managed to "disappear" the bill for playing MUD over a few dozen projects, on the understanding that it never happened again.

  24. I Am Spartacus

    X.25 anyone?

    I remember, vaguely, a time when we got X.25 connections. Great for connecting dumb teletype style terminals to your new sparkly minicomputer. All was well, until someone decided to connect a whole network of IBM 3270 terminals remotely over X.25.

    There is a a price for the connection and price per packet. Al wel and good if all you are doing is sending a line of data in, with a couple of lines of output back, when the operator is present.

    IBM 3270's were not quite like that. The controller used to poll the terminals at very regular intervals: Terminal 1- Anything to send? No. Terminal 2 - Anything to send? No. Terminal 3 .... until it gets to the end of the terminals and repeats. Endlessly. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, until the BT bill came in and the accountant lit up with an explosive "WTF".

    Not my gig, not my problem, but I did laugh.

    1. Xalran

      Re: X.25 anyone?

      I've done worse.... in an Evil sense...

      For obscure reasons we had to connect a graphic terminal workstation ( HP on HP-UX ) to several servers far away ( but still in the same country. ), for yet more obscure reasons, the only way we could do it was through a Base Access ( 2B+D )... The workstation obviously talked in IP, and we couldn't plug in any card into it, so we ended up using X.25 switches at both end that converted the IP in X.25 and then used a BRA Card to feed the 2B channels... with ISDN dial-in based on the destination IP... It was a nightmare to set up, but worked fine for as long as was did need it.

  25. Bryan W

    Mistake: Waiting for decisions

    "Ever managed to create a ridiculously enormous bill with a seemingly trivial mistake?"

    Hack together inefficient prototype on cloud. Show execs. Move on to other peojects while waiting for decision(s) that never come...

  26. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward Bronze badge

    When I read ISDN I could immediately tell where the story could go, and I was not disappointed.

    Back in the ISDN days, (here in South Africa) you get charged the normal tariff for a 64k connection.

    But once you dial an 128k connection, your tariff doubles as you're now using two 64k lines.

    Which caused us to be very, very careful that we dial 64k and not 128k...

  27. DS999 Silver badge

    Not just ISDN or just work

    When I was like 13 or 14 years old I convinced my dad to get a modem for the Atari 800, allowing access to local BBSes and what not. I did not know that numbers you could dial without an area code would incur a charge. Those who live in the US and are old enough to have never had a cell phone until after college know what I'm talking about.

    I learned about a BBS in a nearby town but still within our area code, and connected to it a lot over the course of a month. My dad hit the roof when he got the bill for several hundred dollars! Luckily my pleas of ignorance and a few weekends as forced labor helping him clean out the garage - along with a promise to not dial any number that didn't have one of our handful of local prefixes - settled the matter.

    1. C R Mudgeon Bronze badge

      Re: Not just ISDN or just work

      Yeah, our area code took in a *lot* of territory (416, before the 905 split). There was a page at the beginning of the phone book that listed all the prefixes that counted as local calls, and so free.

    2. Ace2 Silver badge

      Re: Not just ISDN or just work

      Yup, I ran up a big bill on that. “Local long distance”… what a telco scam.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ISDN backup?

    In the early days of ADSL a client had it installed in place of their ISDN email dialup. After six months they liked it so much but realised they now relied on it so asked the ISP to set up a failover with the ISDN. The MD also got ADSL at home and we set up a VPN. The ISDN backup and home ADSL were ordered at the same time, so wise people will see where this is going.

    Months later a mahoosive four figure bill arrives for ISDN calls. Turned out the ISP had configured the ISDN in the office as a backup for the ADSL at home, and when that was switched off one day the ISDN kicked in, but when the ADSL was put back on the ISDN didn't see this and stayed up, and no one had realised their 2Mbps ADSL had actually been 128kbps for the last four months.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I used work at a satellite ISP. As part of expanding the buisness we were offering VoIP channels to various Eastern European and Middle East countries. The VoIP calls into the UK were terminating on a Cisco Carrier grade switch in our Earth station and then connecting via a couple of ISDN 30s to the local POTS. At the start this worked with only a few local issues until we took on a particular client in India. Then we got constant complaints that hardly any calls connected. Error checking showed that we always had channels free on the ISDN 30 just calls weren't connecting and it was complaining that all channels were in use.

    I had built a billing system for the VoIP system so I had a complete copy of every record the switch generated for each call attempt. Looking at we could see that the D channels were maxing out but the B channels always had space. It was at this point that we found out that a) the customer was a call centre and b) were happily ignoring the service agreement that didn't allow autodialers. so they were making calls at a rapid rate, that were not answered and so never established on the B channel but did max out the D channel.

    Solution tell the client its their fault and they can either stop using the autodialer, or pay for another ISDN 30 install just for them - oh and rate limit on the switch

    1. nintendoeats Silver badge

      Which did they go for?

      1. Wanderingsky

        After some arguement they paid for a dedicated ISDN 30, so they no longer impacted on our other customers. Even after paying for that it was cheaper for them than any other method at the time

  30. BartyFartFast

    early days of voip.

    One scumbag client bought into VoIP and got royally shafted by some muppet who threw together an Asterisk box and a crate of Snom phones.

    They also got shafted by their west African cleaner who worked out how to schedule the forward on desk phones to friends and family back home, making a pretty penny selling phone calls to their UK friends.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ISDN plus Netware license checks = trouble

    So, long ago, I was putting a 3-site Novell Netware setup in place, that linked up using dial-on-demand ISDN. These had to synchronise the directory around the network, route email, and so on.

    Before the project went live, I explicitly pointed out to management that, although I had configured what I could with dile timeouts on the router, decreasing the synch times on the directory, and rmeoving all keepalives and so on, I wasn't trained as a Netware CNE and reall y thought someone should check it out.

    They said not to worry.

    A couple of weeks late, the phone bill arrived on a small trolley. The system had been dialling every 10 minutes to verify that no other machines on the network had the same license keys. This is a hidden, undocumented setting in Netware that only CNE-certified people were told about.

    I was fully arse-covered, and when they paid $$ for a CNE consultant he fixed it PDQ, but the phone bill ended up being split between us and the client, at great expense.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ISDN Pelican Club

    I worked for a small UK based IT consultancy company in the 90's. Any customer getting an ISDN line was said to have joined the Pelican Club - because of their enormous bills.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Done that

    First time I ever configured an ISDN router (DLink I think), I set up the second line which promptly did the dial up - drop thing repeatedly at 5p per minute.

    The itemised bill had to be delivered by a courier.

  34. Sparkus

    PointCast in the late 1990s

    on every desktop in the company.

    'nuf said.....

  35. VicMortimer Silver badge

    Nope, not the ISDN I knew.

    Where I live, ISDN was cheap. Really cheap. Cheaper than a regular phone line, and you got 2 phone lines. I don't even remember exactly how much it cost, but it was less than $50/month for ISDN service.

    ISDN "dialup" 64k internet service was $20/month, the same as 56k dialup. 128k was $35/month. It wasn't "supposed" to be always on for normal customers, but I wasn't a normal customer, and my internet service was free, along with a 5-pack of usable static IPs.

    So my ISDN was always both channels up unless I was using a channel for voice. It would auto-drop a channel if I picked up a phone, reconnect it when I hung up.

    I kept it until I got 1.5 megabit DSL.

  36. DownUndaRob

    and then there was DoV

    There were Data channels and Voice channels, with Data channels costing more than Voice, so there was a trick to force the Data call to happen over the Voice circuits and reduce cost (sure it went a little slower but...)

  37. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

    BT Home Highway

    At one point, BT (desperate to stay relevent) had a good deal - an ISDN setup where you only paid for the connection attempt and not for the time. So I, with my working dial-on-demand linux setup, had a cron job that, at 00:00:01 did a ping to (which fired up the ISDN) and then did a ping at regular intervals to maintain the link.

    So I had my very own, amazingly fast, 128K leased line (sort of). I ran fetchmail every 5 minutes (I was using Demon Internet then) and leafnode for Usenet. The ISDN was the default route so all my browsing went that route as well. The monthly cost for the HH wasn't too onerous (and paid for by my business - I was EKS at that point) so I was happy!

    Then along came DSL and I migrated over. It was good while it lasted. And I made damn sure that I had a firewall from that point - Astaro linux to the rescue. Of course, Astaro got borged by Sophos who, amazingly, managed not to ruin it and kept up the free 50 IP address home license.

    Sadly, I'm regularly using more than 50 IP addresses and Sophos appears to be making UTM EOL so I'll be moving to OPNSense soon (with the SMTP proxy module).

    1. Down not across

      Re: BT Home Highway

      Nothing that good when I had HomeHighway, but Freeserve did have free calls up to 30 mins so I had my cisco 2503 configured to dial up on demand but drop the link before 30 mins was up. Initially they didn't even check for channel bonding so for quite some time it was 128k free access.

      Freeserve did eventually cotton on and stopped channel bonding. by that time DOCSIS was becoming available so ended up canceling the ISDN not long after.

  38. Kistelek

    Controlware, how I miss thee

    Been there, demanded an itemised bill from BT. Manged to find a few lines where their billing computer couldn't keep up with Controlware kit's dialling so showed 000000 as destination number. Declared the whole bill as crap. BT Voided it. Happy days.

  39. Steve B

    Lost a job interview because of that!

    I used to be involved with the forefront of networking using my systems as test beds to make sure that when something new came along it worked for us.

    When ISDN routers became a thing, it was obvious from the get go that they would connect as desired then drop the link when idle.

    As the Connect Charge was higher than the usage charge, it was possible to easily make multiple calls in the short period of a "usage time unit" really tacking the bills. so I worked out immediately how to configure the device to keep the charges to a minimum.

    I was trying for a job in a major local employer with international stores, who wanted a new network man.

    As per usual, the job had been specced by someone who knew little about networks so the proposed content and context were a bit iffy.

    As I was leaving a fairly secure position, I was concerned about where the job would "go" as the proposed function would not take the year plus they had allowed, but could be easily accomplished over a weekend, or maybe a week at the outside, which I pointed out when querying the role prospects.

    I asked them what equipment they currently had and as soon as they mentioned the new routers they had, I told them they had to reconfigure them from the defaults before they used them or they would run up large bills.

    They looked at each other and ended the interview. Apparently they had these strange large phone bills they could not account for and having had the cause revealed, they assumed I had been fed inside information by their previous network consultants in an attempt for them to get back into the company good books, thus ruling me out.

    The good part was they hired a paper expert from "London" who took a year to do the job with an expensive solution and got it so wrong they parted company at that point.


  40. Xalran

    I went through the comments and nobody noticed a few things.

    - First and foremost, that story is set up in Europe... had it been in the US 128K would have been a wet dream on a Basic Access as each B Channel is only 56K.

    - Second, that US - Germany Leased Line can't be more than 56K because of the above.... What we call an E1 in Europe ( the standard 30B+D Primary ISDN Access or the more basic PCM link is 2Mb is a only 1.8Mb in the US [ 32*56K ] ) and that's what is split in leased lines... so on the US side, even if they had used a BRA they would have never been able to chug more than 114K.

    - Third, so far I've talked in bits per second... but I saw good old plain modem mentioned in the comments... the 56Kbps of the V.92 modem are bauds per second which are not bits per seconds.

    That's especially important on the US side because the only way 56K bauds per second can reach 56K bits per seconds is if you sent a crenelated signal : 1010101010101010101010101010.

    Any other signal will degrade the number of actual bits sent on the modem link, down to the point when you send a 11111111111111111111111111 or 00000000000000000000000000 signal the baud rate

    drops to 0.

    Now you could lots of fun stuff with an ISDN traffic generator and telecom equipments... During some tests long ago, we found by accident a sequence of ISDN message ( and their content ) that was sending a specific brand of PBX ( with a specific software ) into reload from hard drive every time the sequence was sent. [ note : it was found and (ab)used during validation tests, the sequence was noted and a patch/new release of the PBX software was designed to plug the hole ]

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As far as I know, USA has no E1. They have T1, which isn't 32*56 kbps but 1544 kbps. For another, seems to me you're getting a bit confused with bits and bauds.

      1. Down not across

        Spot on. As it happens the E1 vs T1 is not anything to do with speed of the channel but quantity of channels in the TDM mux (32 vs 24).

        Baud has very little to do with data rate as it measure modulation. Even the early V.22 was transferring 1200 bps at 600 baud.

      2. Xalran

        read carefully... I mention the 32*56K and why if you are on a 64k B channel In Europe and you are talking to an American server at the end of a 56K B channel you will never reach the 64K on the European side.

        That's my second point.

        I agree that the Third point might be confusing, but I got carried over and started to talk avout V.92 ( 56Kbauds ) modems and how they compares to even an American 56Kbit B Channel.

      3. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        We use T1s inside the US, but we do terminate E1s at international handoff points. I'm not aware of any T1s terminating outside the US though, except to Canada. Not to say there aren't any, but I've worked for several of the larger telecoms and we always jump up to E1s when leaving the US. It's also E1s to Mexico and points south.

  41. TeeCee Gold badge


    I always heard that as It Still Does Nothing.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At a certain enterprise database vendor in Sydney, back in the early to mid 90s, our CTO had discovered the joy of getting our internal email synced over a dial up calling the US parent office. Then one Friday evening it glitched, the system didn't respond and they went home....and the line stayed up all weekend at the then extortionate rates Telstra (OTT by name, OTT by call rates) were charging. I think that month's phone bill was into the 10s of thousands.

  43. nijam Silver badge

    > ISDN was often mocked as standing for...

    It still does nothing; innovation subscribers don't need; and many more besides.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hairdryer headset

    My first proper job at the end of the nineties was working for the BT ISDN helpdesk. There were some days when it seemed like every other call was from a shocked customer wanting to vigorously debate their first ISDN 2 bill.

  45. Adam JC

    4G Faux Pas

    I thought I'd help my sister out whilst moving house and give her one of our LTE emergency backup routers and my Netflix login so she could keep herself occupied before her broadband went in.

    Provisioned an AYCE/Unlimited data SIM.. preconfigured the WiFI, handed it over on a Friday after work - That was my good deed for the week done!

    Fast forward to the following Tuesday and I spot an e-mail alert about one of our SIMS going over quota... by something ridiculous like 1042%

    Yep.. forgot to attach the correct tarriff when provisioning the SIM. It had 1GB of inclusive data and she had been slamming 4K Netflix the entire time.. £800 odd later in overage charges I very quickly learnt my lesson there :-)

    The worst bit? We have an automatic data bar feature but I didn't bother to tick that either.. Story of my life :-)

  46. Davegoody

    ISDN bills could be problematical.......

    I used to work for a large car auction company, with a head office up-north, and the flagship office (where the CEO lived) down in the south-west.

    As lead-techie, I had provisioned a state-of-the-art Video Conferencing system that used 3 ISDN lines (6 channels) bonded for comms (ground-breaking - if not pocket-stretching at the time. IP-based VC wasn't offered at the time.

    Worked amazingly and paid for itself in short-shrift.


    One day if developed a silent fault which seemingly went on for quite a while.

    We only knew when a lorry (I kid you not) delivered our phone bill on pallets.

    It was a not-inconsequential amount.

    Red faces all around, but pretty sure it cost nearly as much to print and transport the bill, than it did to cover the cost of the ISDN.......

  47. jlturriff

    Throughput claims

    One of the things that really gripes me about telecom (from POTS to Broadband) is the propensity of providers to tout their service speeds as "up to [insert rate here]," as if this means anything. Sure, ISDN was rated at "up to 128K/sec," but just think: 20 bits/sec qualifies as conforming to that boast, too. For example, my satellite link is rated at "up to" 50MB/sec, but right now my throughput is 15.03up/1.46down MB/sec, far lower than my ISP's suggestion.

    We need to change the rules so that providers also have to state a LOWER limit.

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