POTS & PANS & A Little Bit of PAIN As We Transition To Digital

POTS & PANS & A Little Bit of PAIN As We Transition To Digital

If you have been around the telecom world for any length of time, you know that the term ‘POTS’ has nothing to do with the latest cooking accessory on the Food Network. When we refer to Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS), we are talking about standard copper phone lines, like the ones you would find in your home. For years, the aphorism has been to resist the transition to digital & install these POTS lines as the backup to modern digital services, as POTS typically work when most other systems fail, require no power, and any regular telephone from Radio Shack (if you can find a store) can be plugged in, delivering a basic level of service.

There is no doubt that the advancement of the cellular telephone networks has been one of the most astonishing communications transitions altering our lifestyle today. In fact, we often wonder how we researched anything without Google, how we got anywhere without Waze, and how I had a medium pizza with sausage and onions delivered to me no matter where I was on the planet. This, in addition to our common communications modality of choice, has caused a paradigm shift in the way we think about communications resiliency and redundancy and the use of POTS lines.

Dear old Mother Bell and all of the other ‘Traditional Carriers’ are also feeling the same effect of this digital transformation to IP and wireless services. Across the country, POTS are being replaced by PANS (Pretty Advanced New Stuff) in the form of digital fiber optic networks. The legacy analog copper-based networks lining our highways and countryside are routinely being abandoned and/or replaced with fiber-based facilities.

For example, in the Northeast alone, Verizon has filed formal notices with the FCC stating that the wire centers (central offices) listed below are planning to be decommissioned are planned. These are all copper-based facilities where fiber will take over services. Each notice below has a link to Verizon’s official notice to the FCC, and contains a list of the specific Central Offices affected, as well as the addresses they serve.

DELAWARE Copper CO Retirements

MARYLAND Copper CO Retirements

MASSACHUSETTS Copper CO Retirements

NEW JERSEY Copper CO Retirements

NEW YORK Copper CO Retirements

PENNSYLVANIA Copper CO Retirements

RHODE ISLAND Copper CO Retirements

VIRGINIA Copper CO Retirements

Not to worry as this may not be too terrible. Not only are the new facilities more capable of high-speed data, they provide remote alarming, management and diagnostic capabilities. When designed in a ‘ring-topology’ they can also provide near-instantaneous failover and reroute, in the unlikely event of a failure in the infrastructure, ultimately increasing uptime. Compare this against a copper infrastructure that provides limited alarming during an outage, and only hub and spoke connectivity, I’ll go out on a limb and say that a digital fiber facility can ultimately provide a better service level and overall uptime, despite having to rely on power, which can be resolved with various levels of battery back-up and solar-battery solutions.

This ultimately raises the question: “Do I need to keep a POTS line installed for life-safety services like 911 in my remote office where I only have IP phones or VoIP based trunking or can I transition to digital?” While my answer in past years would have been “Yes, absolutely!”, given today’s environment, with cellular penetration being reported by the CTIA at all-time record highs, and carriers continuously abandoning legacy copper-based networks when they fail, I would have to seriously question if a POTS line is still more reliable than a PANS circuit? With cellular being so ubiquitous, can this be an option as the primary back-up? Likely ‘yes’, but as John Chiaramonte of Mission Critical Partners reminds us, “An important topic for all in 911 today” are reports like the recent one from the US GAO that stated, “During [2009 to 2016], the number of outages substantially increased from 189 to 1,079 outages, with most of the increase occurring from 2009 to 2011.”

CTIA is the organization that collects facts about wireless deployments and produces a sobering report each year.  In the latest report for 2016, the numbers look like this based on the data found in the Annual Industry Wireless Survey available at https://www.ctia.org/industry-data/ctia-annual-wireless-industry-survey.

Key Mobile Trends in the United StatesTable Courtesy of CTIA: https://www.ctia.org/industry-data/ctia-annual-wireless-industry-survey


Wireless penetration (as of 2016) is now over 120%. That means there are 1.2 cell phones for every US citizen. On top of that, 66% of those subscribers are Smartphones capable, not only of voice communications but IP-based data communications. Given these sobering statistics, it is not hard to understand my hesitation to say that a POTS circuit remains a suitable backup for a PANS circuit. The fact of the matter is that times have changed; what was is no longer, and as we move forward we need to look to new services and adapt our current best practices and operational guidelines to accept a little bit of PAIN (Publicly Available Internet Networks) a.k.a. public wireless broadband.

I believe PAIN (you heard it here 1st) is a fitting acronym for Next Generation communications facilities. Fitting, because they can be a ‘PAIN’ to manage, but only because of their newness to many. We need to think towards the future, and cannot expect to apply old standards to manage new technologies. Everyone including Carriers, Enterprises, and consumers alike need to adapt, embrace, and adopt these important changes as they bring a host of new services and capabilities that enhance our lifestyle during network sunny-day periods. For the occasional rainy-day scenario, with the proper monitoring, planning and actionable backup plans in place, we can all hide out under an umbrella until the clouds clear.

In short, don’t resist the transition to digital!
Mark J. Fletcher, ENP
Please follow me on Twitter @Fletch911, Listen to my Podcasts on APN, and subscribe to my Blogs on Fletch.TV.

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