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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What? Can the PSTN be Shut Down?

What? Can the PSTN be Shut Down?

I will refer you to the excellent article put forth by Gary Audin, Delphi Inc. in July 2010 and his immense research so I will just provide the short form. (Go to for a PDF version of Gary’s full article)

As you know, the VOIP phone service business has been steadily increasing since the late 90s. We have the Telco providers, Cableco providers, Mobileco providers and even the disruptive free providers like Skype all providing VOIP lines.

However, the legacy copper based landline and PSTN switched architecture is still very much in place. The services are being disconnected on a daily basis as many subscribers are moving to the VOIP based services. So AT&T wants to retire the PSTN and POTS infrastructure and concentrate their network focus onto broadband based services. So in a document published on Dec 21, 2009 titled “Comments-NBP Public Notice #25, Comments of AT&T Inc. on the Transition from the Legacy Circuit-Switched Network to Broadband” submitted to the FCC, AT&T wants to shut down the PSTN with the FCC’s approval. They are also asking the FCC to remove them as the Carrier-Of-Last-Resort and thus any responsibilities within the current regulations

So AT&T really wants to eliminate the PSTN and its components and deliver all services over broadband. The PSTN network cannot be shut down overnight without advance planning but AT&T wants approval and then is able to determine timelines. The PSTN network will lose the Class 5 and 4 circuit switches, all the tie lines in between the Central Offices, all local loop coppers pairs (the last mile), the operations centers, the real estate and the legacy support staff. This would be a huge undertaking, without any doubt.

The areas of impact to this massive elimination (or maybe it’s a sell off of the PSTN assets) would fall into several sections of importance:

1) POTS Customers: What’s my mom going to do with her digipulse bedroom telephone, rotary telephone in the basement and her shiny new Panasonic DECT cordless in the kitchen? Does she really need to have a Cableco VOIP line?

2) Wireless Providers: Many use fiber links between towers and their co-lo into the network but in many areas copper based services are cheaper and easier to install, especially in rural areas. Handsets are wireless but the call carrying needs the PSTN network.

3) ILEC and CLEC: The smaller organizations rely heavily on the PSTN. Are they expected to purchase PSTN assets or are they going to be desperate in fast tracking in their VOIP investments?

4) Resellers: They will or could be out of business soon as they resell PSTN services that they don’t own and enjoy the luxury of wholesale rates. Sure, they resell VOIP as well depending on the geographic market but they will not have any money to buy PSTN networks in their serving area.

5) Military Security and Government Communications: These users will have to move towards IP services very quickly as they rely heavily on the PSTN. In fact, the PSTN can be more secure than IP based networks and the Darknet AUTOVON Dept of Defense PSTN network is considered very secure – all copper.

6) International Toll: Since, everyone else in the world will retain their PSTN; the US callers will need to go through gateways in order to make calls outside their borders. These gateways will push up the cost of long distance possibly making it unattractive so many users will just use Skype or Google Voice as they do today.

7) Regional Telco’s: In the USA there are a lot of small regional Telco’s in play and they may have difficulty to purchase their PSTN networks and would have to migrate to VOIP a lot faster than planned. Will their local rates rise too high in order to pay for the infrastructure change?

8) Emergency 911: The current 911 infrastructure today offers the best in class method of determining where you are calling from based on the physical wires. With a change to VOIP, a robust and reliable replacement service will be of highest priority and new technologies may be needed to offer this service.

So there will be many questions and many challenges as AT&T moves forward to shut down the PSTN over the next 5-10 years. Naturally, other countries will follow suit but then we have a 25 year window for all that to happen. I know I will be sitting in my rocking chair, telling my grandchildren stories of the good old days when your telephone connected to a jack in the wall and if there ever was a power outage the telephone still worked. They will marvel at the rotary dial telephone set, the Northern Telecom Contempra telephone set (beige with DTMF) and of course my Mitsubishi Analog Cellular CDMA Bag phone.

“Hey granddad what was it like when the dinosaurs roamed the earth? Were you ever scared of them” “No I was not because they were friendly in those days and they were always around to help me with the turning the TV antenna on the roof!”

John Leonardelli
Senior Unified Communication Consultant


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