Voice, data, video, and broadcasting companies are now offering customers more services than ever before. However, they also have to maintain a multitude of legacy networks. This includes the public switched telephone network (PSTN).
Also known as plain old telephone service (POTS), PSTN is the original, analog landline telephone network. We are now seeing the phasing out of PSTN.
PSTN’s original design focused solely on voice communications. However, PSTN provided support for data traffic as our communication needs evolved. In particular, the addition of integrated services digital network (ISDN) lines offered a major leap forward in the simultaneous digital transmission of voice, video, data, and other network services.
Outdated analog equipment underpins PSTN. It is costly to maintain and knowledge of the infrastructure is diminishing.
Telecoms providers are encouraging consumers to move to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). VoIP is a technology that converts voice into digital signals for delivery over an IP network such as the internet.
While the changeover is voluntary at present, it will ultimately become mandatory for both home and business consumers. In some countries, telecoms providers aim to cease PSTN services very soon. Globally, the target switch-off is by 2030.
What Does This Mean for Communications Providers?
The phasing out of PSTN and the migration to an all-IP network will simplify network management for communications providers. Undoubtedly this will lead to cost savings and streamlining of services.
Communications providers will no longer need to manage and maintain a hybrid infrastructure with analog and digital components. However, there are still challenges ahead. The replacement of outdated equipment is a huge task.
Customer migration requires careful management. In addition, the communications industry is highly regulated. Providers will need to demonstrate that their new services are thoroughly tested, adhere to standards, and meet the interests of consumers.
What Does This Mean for Consumers?
Many businesses are already using VoIP to some degree. Without realizing it, some home consumers may already be using an IP-based service delivered by PSTN emulation. VoIP actually offers many benefits.
Businesses that switch to VoIP often achieve considerable cost savings. There is typically no line-rental. Call duration and distance have little influence on call charges. Digital technology also presents possibilities for new and improved services.
It’s much easier to provision new lines and enhanced call routing and queuing features are available. Smartphone apps even allow people to take their office extension numbers with them wherever they go.
What Are the Risks?
IP-based networks are not really designed to carry voice traffic. Just as the PSTN was originally designed only for voice and then evolved to carry data, IP-based networks were originally intended only for data and have evolved to carry voice.
The PSTN is a circuit-switching network. This means a dedicated circuit supports a telephone call for its duration. In contrast, IP-based networks are packet-switching networks. In this case, packets contain parts of a message that are sent across the network individually.
Voice calls receive that same treatment as data, but IP-based networks can suffer from packet loss and jitter that will affect voice traffic. While service providers have been aware of this issue for some time, it has never been fully resolved.
What Can You Do to Prepare?
Be proactive. If you are still using ISDN lines, you need to talk to your service provider and explore your options. Begin the switch gradually and as soon as possible. You can iron out any service issues while still maintaining connectivity through your old landlines.
Monitor your critical contact numbers. With voice, data, and video all travelling over the same network, any number of factors could affect voice services. Until the transition stabilizes, there could be a degradation in service or even outages. Make sure you’re the first to know!