31.7. ISDN

A good resource for information on ISDN technology and hardware is Dan Kegel's ISDN Page.

A quick simple road map to ISDN follows:

Cost is a significant factor in determining what solution you will choose. The following options are listed from least expensive to most expensive.

31.7.1. ISDN Cards

Contributed by Hellmuth Michaelis.

FreeBSD's ISDN implementation supports only the DSS1/Q.931 (or Euro-ISDN) standard using passive cards. Some active cards are supported where the firmware also supports other signaling protocols; this also includes the first supported Primary Rate (PRI) ISDN card.

The isdn4bsd software allows you to connect to other ISDN routers using either IP over raw HDLC or by using synchronous PPP: either by using kernel PPP with isppp, a modified sppp(4) driver, or by using userland ppp(8). By using userland ppp(8), channel bonding of two or more ISDN B-channels is possible. A telephone answering machine application is also available as well as many utilities such as a software 300 Baud modem.

Some growing number of PC ISDN cards are supported under FreeBSD and the reports show that it is successfully used all over Europe and in many other parts of the world.

The passive ISDN cards supported are mostly the ones with the Infineon (formerly Siemens) ISAC/HSCX/IPAC ISDN chipsets, but also ISDN cards with chips from Cologne Chip (ISA bus only), PCI cards with Winbond W6692 chips, some cards with the Tiger300/320/ISAC chipset combinations and some vendor specific chipset based cards such as the AVM Fritz!Card PCI V.1.0 and the AVM Fritz!Card PnP.

Currently the active supported ISDN cards are the AVM B1 (ISA and PCI) BRI cards and the AVM T1 PCI PRI cards.

For documentation on isdn4bsd, have a look at /usr/share/examples/isdn/ directory on your FreeBSD system or at the homepage of isdn4bsd which also has pointers to hints, erratas and much more documentation such as the isdn4bsd handbook.

In case you are interested in adding support for a different ISDN protocol, a currently unsupported ISDN PC card or otherwise enhancing isdn4bsd, please get in touch with Hellmuth Michaelis.

For questions regarding the installation, configuration and troubleshooting isdn4bsd, a freebsd-isdn mailing list is available.

31.7.2. ISDN Terminal Adapters

Terminal adapters (TA), are to ISDN what modems are to regular phone lines.

Most TA's use the standard Hayes modem AT command set, and can be used as a drop in replacement for a modem.

A TA will operate basically the same as a modem except connection and throughput speeds will be much faster than your old modem. You will need to configure PPP exactly the same as for a modem setup. Make sure you set your serial speed as high as possible.

The main advantage of using a TA to connect to an Internet Provider is that you can do Dynamic PPP. As IP address space becomes more and more scarce, most providers are not willing to provide you with a static IP anymore. Most stand-alone routers are not able to accommodate dynamic IP allocation.

TA's completely rely on the PPP daemon that you are running for their features and stability of connection. This allows you to upgrade easily from using a modem to ISDN on a FreeBSD machine, if you already have PPP set up. However, at the same time any problems you experienced with the PPP program and are going to persist.

If you want maximum stability, use the kernel PPP option, not the userland PPP.

The following TA's are known to work with FreeBSD:

  • Motorola BitSurfer and Bitsurfer Pro

  • Adtran

Most other TA's will probably work as well, TA vendors try to make sure their product can accept most of the standard modem AT command set.

The real problem with external TA's is that, like modems, you need a good serial card in your computer.

You should read the FreeBSD Serial Hardware tutorial for a detailed understanding of serial devices, and the differences between asynchronous and synchronous serial ports.

A TA running off a standard PC serial port (asynchronous) limits you to 115.2 Kbs, even though you have a 128 Kbs connection. To fully utilize the 128 Kbs that ISDN is capable of, you must move the TA to a synchronous serial card.

Do not be fooled into buying an internal TA and thinking you have avoided the synchronous/asynchronous issue. Internal TA's simply have a standard PC serial port chip built into them. All this will do is save you having to buy another serial cable and find another empty electrical socket.

A synchronous card with a TA is at least as fast as a stand-alone router, and with a simple 386 FreeBSD box driving it, probably more flexible.

The choice of synchronous card/TA v.s. stand-alone router is largely a religious issue. There has been some discussion of this in the mailing lists. We suggest you search the archives for the complete discussion.

31.7.3. Stand-alone ISDN Bridges/Routers

ISDN bridges or routers are not at all specific to FreeBSD or any other operating system. For a more complete description of routing and bridging technology, please refer to a networking reference book.

In the context of this section, the terms router and bridge will be used interchangeably.

As the cost of low end ISDN routers/bridges comes down, it will likely become a more and more popular choice. An ISDN router is a small box that plugs directly into your local Ethernet network, and manages its own connection to the other bridge/router. It has built in software to communicate via PPP and other popular protocols.

A router will allow you much faster throughput than a standard TA, since it will be using a full synchronous ISDN connection.

The main problem with ISDN routers and bridges is that interoperability between manufacturers can still be a problem. If you are planning to connect to an Internet provider, you should discuss your needs with them.

If you are planning to connect two LAN segments together, such as your home LAN to the office LAN, this is the simplest lowest maintenance solution. Since you are buying the equipment for both sides of the connection you can be assured that the link will work.

For example to connect a home computer or branch office network to a head office network the following setup could be used:

Παράδειγμα 31.1. Branch Office or Home Network

Network uses a bus based topology with 10 base 2 Ethernet («thinnet»). Connect router to network cable with AUI/10BT transceiver, if necessary.

10 Base 2 Ethernet

If your home/branch office is only one computer you can use a twisted pair crossover cable to connect to the stand-alone router directly.

Παράδειγμα 31.2. Head Office or Other LAN

Network uses a star topology with 10 base T Ethernet («Twisted Pair»).

ISDN Network Diagram

One large advantage of most routers/bridges is that they allow you to have 2 separate independent PPP connections to 2 separate sites at the same time. This is not supported on most TA's, except for specific (usually expensive) models that have two serial ports. Do not confuse this with channel bonding, MPP, etc.

This can be a very useful feature if, for example, you have an dedicated ISDN connection at your office and would like to tap into it, but do not want to get another ISDN line at work. A router at the office location can manage a dedicated B channel connection (64 Kbps) to the Internet and use the other B channel for a separate data connection. The second B channel can be used for dial-in, dial-out or dynamically bonding (MPP, etc.) with the first B channel for more bandwidth.

An Ethernet bridge will also allow you to transmit more than just IP traffic. You can also send IPX/SPX or whatever other protocols you use.

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