From Copper to Fiber to LTE to 5G: As Plain Old Telephone Service Fades Away, Alternatives Light the Way

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April, 2022
Author: Louie Tugas

From Copper to Fiber to LTE to 5G: As Plain Old Telephone Service Fades Away, Alternatives Light the Way

In August 2019, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued order 19-72A1, mandating that all U.S. POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service – analogue phone systems) lines get replaced with an alternative service by August 2, 2022. Section I.3 of this order states the following:

“Given the sweeping changes in the communications marketplace since the passage of the 1996 Act, including the increasing migration of consumers of all sorts and sizes away from TDM technology, copper loops, and local telephone service toward newer, any-distance voice services over next-generation wireline and wireless networks and the wide range of competitors offering facilities-based voice service alongside over-the-top Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, we find that the public interest is no longer served by maintaining these legacy regulatory obligations and their associated costs. Rather than a foothold for new entrants into the marketplace, they have become a vice, trapping incumbent LECs into preserving outdated technologies and services at the cost of a slower transition to next-generation networks and services that benefit American consumers and businesses.”

The grand decommissioning of the Public Telephone Switched Network (PSTN) and replacement of “copper wire” with fibre that can support IP telephony and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) services is well underway, in the U.S. and globally.
Here in the U.K. for example, British Telecom (BT) announced they are moving all customers from the old analogue public switched telephone network (PSTN) to a fully digital network. They firmly state they will have moved everyone over before Openreach stops the PSTN (and ISDN) service in 2025. By then, every phone line in the UK will be digital, routing calls over IP (Internet Protocol) rather than the traditional PSTN.

PSTN has been the backbone of the UK’s phone network for decades, with “telephone lines strung across the streets, the web of copper cables buried beneath your feet, some of which have been down there since the 19th century,” BT wrote. “As an essentially 20th century technology, the PSTN network is increasingly out of kilter with the demands of modern communications. As people switch to mobile and internet communications, everyone demands much more than the traditional technologies were designed to deliver. Which is why we’re switching to IP.”

The switch to digital is happening everywhere and is accelerating. As technology and customer behavior changes, phone companies across the world are moving from analogue to digital. Germany, Japan, and Sweden are ahead of the U.K. in making the shift. Estonia and The Netherlands are already there and have switched off their PSTN networks.

This week, ConnX, based in the U.S. but serving large enterprise customers globally on their multiservice communication platform, announced a solution for organisations and enterprises seeking to move away from failing and expensive fixed-line analogue network services to all-digital IP SIP-based solutions.

Earlier this month, the company launched a global voice network transformation solution addressing the decommissioning of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), with a global intelligent, digital networking platform supporting the smooth transition to an all-VoIP world.

Carriers are requiring clients to move away from TDM and Analogue Services. Tier one operators in North America and globally are requiring their customers to move away from TDM (T1, T3/45 etc.) access Internet Service and POTS lines. With decades of experience and relationships with every major network operator in the world, ConnX has been seamlessly moving customers to fibre access Internet Services.

ConnX POTS Digitization solutions support all end points, not just desktop phones, but other analogue devices including key systems, fire and smoke alarms, public address systems, and various sensors which are currently connected over legacy analogue lines. Instead of having to “rip and replace,” ConnX modernises with minimal disruption, allowing enterprises to optimise investment in existing analogue devices.

“ConnX POTS Digitization simplifies the process for our clients, including many Fortune 500 companies, so they no longer rely on outdated, failing infrastructure,” said Robert Sese, Senior Director, Global Strategy & Innovation. “Our ‘integrate to migrate’ methodology is a tested, straightforward glide path that allows existing systems to coexist while we digitize the copper phone wire, allowing it to work without interruption.”

Last year, AT&T announced a range of POTS modernization services. “Until now, traditional wireline phone service has been hard to beat for specialty data and voice lines,” said Rich Shaw, Vice President, Voice and Collaboration, AT&T Business. “With AT&T Phone for Business-Advanced, we’ve found a way to modernize these lines to introduce customers to new cloud capabilities while maintaining the reliability and regulatory compliance that they require.”

In addition to all US mobile carriers announcing plans to shut down legacy 3G networks to make way for 5G by the end of 2022, the transition period to migrate from traditional analogue POTS and copper ISDN lines over to VoIP lines is coming to an end this August.

While stragglers are expected, based on the FCC’s mandate, there are only a few months left until mandatory protections run out. Some telecom providers announced their plans to shut down POTS lines back in 2017 and have pushed back their sunset dates multiple times.

Trying to keep POTS and ISDN lines running while also managing an IP infrastructure is complex and expensive. Quality and reliability of VoIP vs. analogue lines has been proven for decades, and when it comes to ISDN lines, today they are rarely used.

(Originally published in Internet Telephony Magazine, April 2022).

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