By: Patrick Herron, Vice President of Customer Solutions
I have telecommunications in my blood. My father worked for Illinois Bell/AT&T for 43 years before retiring in 1991. My first job out of college was also with Illinois Bell, where I learned about telephone networks as an Outside Plant Engineer and Installation and Maintenance Manager in Chicago. That was over 30 years ago and I’ve been working in telecom ever since.
During that time I’ve learned that that telecom technology advances in spurts, driven by innovation, economics, and regulatory change. Examples include the rapid adoption of cellular services, the explosive growth of bandwidth available via fiber optics, and the demise of many traditional services like payphones and calling cards.
The significant shift we are experiencing in telecom technology right now is no different and it’s driven by all three of these factors; innovation, economics and regulatory changes. And that shift is away from a reliance on traditional telephone lines, sometimes called POTs for ‘plain old telephone service’ towards the adoption of Internet Protocol based voice services- usually known as VoIP, or ‘Voice over IP’.
According to the 2018 FCC data, there were 54.7 million traditional telephone lines in service, 64.5 million VoIP subscriptions, and 336 million mobile subscriptions in the United States. And the trend is clear: between 2008 and 2017, business reliance on traditional telephone lines fell by 49%, while business VoIP subscriptions increased by over 1,062%.
Traditional telephone lines rely on copper wires encased in cables run underground or strung on poles. AT&T and other incumbent local exchange carriers do not want to make the continued investment necessary to keep this old copper plant running reliably. The FCC issued a ruling in August of this year that allows AT&T and others to accelerate the retirement of the copper plant and the freedom to increase the prices they charge for the use of the copper wires that deliver POTs services.
What does this mean for businesses and government organizations? It means the reliability of copper-based telephone services will continue to fall, while prices will rise. Not a great combination.
Isn’t changing technology supposed to make things better? Yes, it does. There are many benefits to adopting a VoIP solution to replace telephone lines. Here are a few examples:
- Reliability – One of the most common (and inaccurate) objections to VoIP is that if Internet service goes down for whatever reason, they’d be without a phone as well. One of the benefits of VoIP is that calls can be instantly forwarded to mobile phones and other devices. That also means weather issues, power outages, or other emergencies no longer present the risk they once did.
- Flexibility – VoIP services can be configured to ring individual phones or connect to existing phone systems. And make the inevitable upgrade to a cloud-based phone system (frequently known as unified communication or UC) simpler. VoIP services are even now able to support alarm lines, elevator lines, and other specialty services.
- Scale – Adding new lines is simpler, as there is no need to bring in additional copper plant. And if the existing phone system is out of capacity, with VoIP in place it is simple to add lines using UC services.
- Affordable – Local usage and long-distance charges on traditional telephone lines, as well as a plethora of surcharges and fees, can add up. VoIP services include large or unlimited bundles of minutes, and usually carry only a fraction of the surcharges of traditional telephone lines.
Change may not be easy, but there are a lot of good reasons to make the change from traditional telephone lines to VoIP services. My decades in this business tell me the technology, economics, and regulatory forces driving this change are strong and getting stronger. Talk to your trusted telecom advisor about how VoIP services can help your organization now and in the future.