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In the U.S., the telephone company provides its BRI customers with a U interface. The U interface is a two-wire (single pair) interface from the phone switch, the same physical interface provided for POTS lines. It supports full-duplex data transfer over a single pair of wires, therefore only a single device can be connected to a U interface. This device is called an Network Termination 1 (NT-1). The situation is different elsewhere in the world, where the phone company is allowed to supply the NT-1, and thereby the customer is given an S/T interface.

The NT-1 is a relatively simple device that converts the 2-wire U interface into the 4-wire S/T interface. The S/T interface supports multiple devices (up to 7 devices can be placed on the S/T bus) because, while it is still a full-duplex interface, there is now a pair of wires for receive data, and another for transmit data. Today, many devices have NT-1s built into their design. This has the advantage of making the devices less expensive and easier to install, but often reduces flexibility by preventing additional devices from being connected.

Technically, ISDN devices must go through an Network Termination 2 (NT-2) device, which converts the T interface into the S interface (Note: the S and T interfaces are electrically equivalent). Virtually all ISDN devices include an NT-2 in their design. The NT-2 communicates with terminal equipment, and handles the Layer 2 and 3 ISDN protocols. Devices most commonly expect either a U interface connection (these have a built-in NT-1), or an S/T interface connection.

Devices that connect to the S/T (or S) interface include ISDN capable telephones and FAX machines, video teleconferencing equipment, bridge/routers, and terminal adapters. All devices that are designed for ISDN are designated Terminal Equipment 1 (TE1). All other communication devices that are not ISDN capable, but have a POTS telephone interface (also called the R interface), including ordinary analog telephones, FAX machines, and modems, are designated Terminal Equipment 2 (TE2). A Terminal Adapters (TA) connects a TE2 to an ISDN S/T bus.

Going one step in the opposite direction takes us inside the telephone switch. Remember that the U interface connects the switch to the customer premises equipment. This local loop connection is called Line Termination (LT function). The connection to other switches within the phone network is called Exchange Termination (ET function). The LT function and the ET function communicate via the V interface.

This can get rather confusing. This diagram should be helpful:

ISDN Network Interfaces Diagram  Click here for a larger, more detailed diagram (56035 bytes)

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Updated December 5, 2006
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