NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

A "Golden Splice" ceremony at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Nov. 16 will mark the completion of a coast-to-coast digital telephone network in North America.

The network will allow users to combine voice, video and computer data on a single telephone line, paving the way for innovative uses in such areas as desktop video conferencing, medical imaging and telecommuting.

"Just as the golden spike linked the nation's railroads in 1869 to carry the lifeblood of the Industrial Age, this `golden splice' will create a transcontinental highway that will carry the lifeblood of the Information Age," said event chairman Jim Jacobson of JPL.

The digital phone system -- known by the name Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) -- results from cooperation among all of the country's long-distance providers as well as local telephone operating companies and equipment suppliers.

JPL is among organizations participating in a users' group created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that has helped shape and test the new technology over the past 21 months. The network allows voice, video and data to be combined in a single phone line by the use of special digital switches at telephone company offices and a network of fiber-optic cables linking telephone company facilities nationwide.

Initially the service will be available to local users over traditional copper phone wiring, although service will eventually be enhanced by upgrading all wiring to fiber optics.

Potential uses include desktop video conferencing, using a small camera about the size of a pack of cigarettes and a personal computer for display on each end. Until now, video conferencing has required special facilities and transmission equipment.

The network will also allow medical doctors to consult on X-rays, scans and other images interactively with specialists in another city.

Similarly, "screen sharing" will be possible where pairs of architects or designers can consult on plans on computer screens on each end of a telephone call, all conveyed by a single phone line.

Of special interest to JPL and other technological organizations is the digital phone system's ability to tie computer networks together or to give users remote access to their office computer networks.

Schedules of when the service will be available in various areas will depend on local telephone companies. The transcontinental connection will be symbolically opened Monday, Nov. 16, with a call placed between JPL and the Corporation for Open Systems International in Reston, Virginia.

Other sites participating in the Nov. 16 event are the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and the U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

Participating in the California event at JPL will be equipment manufacturer Northern Telecom Inc. and regional telephone operating company Pacific Bell.

Other sponsors of the nationwide event include Ameritech, AT&T, Bell Atlantic, Bellcore, BellSouth, Cincinnati Bell Telephone, the Corporation for Open Systems International, Eastman Kodak, IBM, MCI, NYNEX, Siemens Stromberg-Carlson, Southwestern Bell and U.S. West.

An open house demonstrating the new technology at JPL will continue Nov. 17-20 and is open to the public by advance appointment. For information, call Denese Russo at JPL at (818) 354-5697.

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