Is plain old telephone service really dying?

Plain old telephone service, or POTS, is being touted as on its way out by quite a few sources. It’s being said that with the advent of VoIP services, cable and fiber network expansions and wireless communications innovations, POTS is dying a slow, but steady death.

But is that really the case? The reason people have landlines is largely the same: voice communication.

Certainly, in terms of data, the POTS is losing its allure and has been replaced largely by other modes. For instance, it is only in the remotest of areas that a person has to rely on dial-up Internet service anymore. Even then, people are being given the option of switching to two-way satellite Internet services that are far more reliable than dial-up ever was. Granted, it still costs more, but with degrading copper lines and telecommunications companies not really interested in upgrading those lines, it’s a great option.

Despite the basic technology being the same for many traditional landline services, it isn’t exactly plain anymore. For instance, people can now see who is calling them for the most part, force people who are calling with “unlisted” or “blocked” numbers to identify themselves, and voice mail has pretty much eliminated the need for a traditional answering machine, except in cases where there is a need to record the occasional call. Still, there is this idea that no one really needs a landline anymore because cell phones exist.

Not everyone needs, or wants, a cell phone. Businesses, as an example, usually cannot function properly without at least one landline service. Some people still prefer to have people contact them at home and have no use for cellular technologies such as text messaging. In the case of businesses, wired line services often cost far less than wireless for the amount of lines and call routing they need as they grow. While there are still some wired lines that are connected with the old twisted pairs of copper wire, that technology is absolutely past its prime.

While traditional copper lines are definitely on their way out, POTS lines are not. A person can opt to have all additional features on a digital line shut off. Some VoIP providers have amped up security of voice communications for homes and businesses by using the old POTS outlets inside buildings to deliver service via a secure, standalone network that is not connected to the public Internet.

The technology is ever-adapting to new capabilities and consumer expectations. Unfortunately, while there isn’t really any such thing as a POTS anymore, because it is no longer “plain” voice-only technology, regulations and policies for the telecommunications industry have been implemented as technology-specific documents. It is these policies that need to be updated.

Because they are technology-specific, rather than industry specific, they keep many facets of the services that are available restricted and, in some cases, less secure than they could be. Rural service, 911 capability, subsidies, and universal service could all be vastly improved if only the policies governing them were also. “Plain old,” in the realm of modern telecommunications means “comfortable and familiar.”

The ones who need it to stay this way are those who are scared and confused by frequent changes in the technology: the policy-makers, lawyers, and politicians. However, because they put policy and laws into place to protect and govern consumers, industry and security sectors, it would make far more sense for them to create regulations that is industry-specific, rather than technology-specific.

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1 Nov 2012, 5:45 p.m.

I can comment on the situation Switzerland, where the incumbant operator invests massively in fiber deployment.

A full migration to IP telephony is under study with the incumbant, more and more users are taking DSL offerings, so replacement from POTS to VoIP telephony is going on. However, for some 'neverliners' there's no urge to move to VoIP, so handling those customers could best be done using a POTS - VoIP transition in the central office.

A driver for migration is Lifecycle of POTS switching equipment, like Nokia Siemens EWSD. As those equipments are getting old, maintenance is getting more tricky.

In Switzerland, ISDN BRA and PRA connections still exist, those should also be taken into account when migrating to VoIP.


23 Jun 2014, 2:51 p.m.

BroadSoft wrote a thought-leadership piece on this topic on their blog: Enterprises Are Being Forced to Cut the Cord, Will You Be Their Replacement?