Vital Processing Services has teamed up with Verifone Inc. to offer an advanced telecommunications service that can significantly speed card authorizations.

The system, Digital Xpress, is based on the technology known as ISDN, for integrated services digital network.

Because it cuts transaction times to four to six seconds, about one- third the length of conventional analog authorization calls, the ISDN link similarly reduces communications costs.

And because ISDN is fully digital, it is considerably more reliable than links that depend on modem transmissions.

Verifone and Vital, the joint merchant processing venture of Visa U.S.A. and Total System Services Inc., are rolling the service out nationally. They expect the nationwide availability and affordability to add up to rapid success, said Stevan Berardo, executive vice president of Vital.

Verifone also intends to distribute Digital Xpress through other partners, said George Devitt, director of marketing and business development for the Redwood City, Calif.-based transaction automation company.

As the "first to market," Vital adds a compelling product offering just three months since it opened in Tempe, Ariz. With the stated goal of keeping banks in control of their merchant relationships, Vital claimed a 26% share of the merchant processing market by combining the relevant business units of Visa and Total System.

ISDN allows for two high-speed channels of communication over a single circuit, and thus can handle both voice and data. Mr. Berardo described it as "a valuable access technology for the merchant marketplace."

Telephone companies have been offering and expanding ISDN capabilities for more than a decade. The payment-system benefits are obvious: two channels transmitting at 64,000 bits per second, compared with the 1,200 or 2,400 bits per second through typical point of sale terminal modems and dedicated lines.

But ISDN is "complex to configure and install," said Mr. Devitt. "That's why it hasn't taken off in the past," particularly in retail settings.

Verifone's Digital Xpress is a package, a turnkey service that brings all the components of ISDN together - including circuit installation, integration of peripheral devices, and terminal adapting. The retail site has a single supplier and gets a single bill, Mr. Devitt said.

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