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back to article FCC honcho: Shifting our crusty phone network to IP packets starts now

Although many, including telecom giant AT&T, may be of the opinion that the FCC has been dragging its feet on the transition from a time-division multiplexing (TDM) public phone network to an all IP system, Commission chairman Tom Wheeler says that efforts to define the new system will begin in earnest later this month. Speaking …

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This will of course filter down to the customer ?

The cost for sending an SMS message will be purely the cost of sending 128bytes and an international call will be the same price/byte as downloading from a website?

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Re: This will of course filter down to the customer ?

has this happened in the UK where BT (the network owning bit) has been moving everyone onto the 21CN network for a while?

Unfortunately not so far...

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Re: This will of course filter down to the customer ?

"The cost for sending an SMS message will be purely the cost of sending 128bytes and an international call will be the same price/byte as downloading from a website?"

No, there won't be any need for SMS anymore. SMS monthly volumes have been in decline for the past 6 months as the world+dog have been switching to IP based message systems. SMS should die. There is no need for a special case messaging system, when you have better general purpose message system, on the same phone.

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WTF?

Re: This will of course filter down to the customer ?

"SMS monthly volumes have been in decline for the past 6 months as the world+dog have been switching to IP based message systems" - That might be the case in the UK, but "dog" begs to differ. Large parts of the world (including parts of Europe) have such prohibitive data plan prices that most smartphones are only ever used with WiFi for data, which implies messaging is mostly a non-starter. On the other hand, you get "x" free SMS with your subscription - so it is still used quite often.

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WTF?

Re: This will of course filter down to the customer ?

"n switching to IP based message systems. SMS should die. There is no need for a special case messaging system, when you have better general purpose message system, on the same phone......."

And what about the couple of billion phones that are not IP based?

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Re: This will of course filter down to the customer ?

The cost for sending an SMS message will be purely the cost of sending 128bytes and an international call will be the same price/byte as downloading from a website?

Not if the telcos get their way!!!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This will of course filter down to the customer ?

BT don't own the cellular networks. They might buy components from BT, but they belong to the cellular networks.

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It kinda does

Actually it kinda does. Particularly since even a small 8 Euro virtual hosting server instance is enough to provide a VoIP switch for dozens of users, you can set up more sophisticated things.

For example you can get together with some friends to rent VoIP services in different countries. That way you will always pay the rate of that provider. So imagine you call a lot to Germany, you can simply use a VoIP provider in Germany. With a bit more effort the whole thing can even be transparent so you just need to dial your number and the system will automatically route your call to wherever its cheapest.

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"My home FAX, how do I deal with it?"

Toss it in the bin where it belongs? Sorry, I know there some people who still use them but in the end you're just using the phone number to access a network printer/scanner. It'll just take an RJ11 dongle that 'answers' or 'dials' the phone and routes the data to/from the 'phone line' and whatever device you use to view or scan documents on.

Phaxblet, phablax, faxblone, tablax? Whatever it's called the name won't be pretty.

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Re: phablax

Phablax would be an extremely potent laxative...

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They said "IP packets," and then put down their gold monocles

The move to IP is needed but the telcos are doing as an opportunity to restore their monopoly power. The problem with using phone wires is that Bell competitors can offer inexpensive services over them. Getting rid of the wires puts the Bells back in complete monopolistic control over customers. The government could mandate net neutrality but I doubt that enough politicians can resist bribery from AT&T and Verizon.

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Re: They said "IP packets," and then put down their gold monocles

Take off your tin foil hat.

This is not about the wireless transition, it's about eliminating an old network infrastructure (TDM) that would have died long ago were it not for a mandate from the FCC to maintain it. Those "Bell competitors" will still be able to offer their services on the replacement IP network.

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not so fast, there, cowboy

in fact, the legal structure now in the US is such that the legacy telcos are open to all with a business card and a tie on the legacy networks at wholesale rates as competitors... and everything else is closed. so WhoopieNet doesn't get to compete with fiber-connected TelcoNet customers, because that is not a "legacy network."

at present, this is a minus for the telcos and a plus for the cable companies, because they are not "legacy network," either. unless it is ALL opened up to competition, perhaps based on c-tags or SNAP headers to route the billing, anything else is discriminatory and prohibited by monopoly law of 110+ years duration.

so that's a big political can of worms the FCC has in front of them, and no mustard to ease the path.

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Re: not so fast, there, cowboy

in fact, the legal structure now in the US is such that the legacy telcos are open to all with a business card and a tie on the legacy networks at wholesale rates as competitors... and everything else is closed. so WhoopieNet doesn't get to compete with fiber-connected TelcoNet customers, because that is not a "legacy network."

That was my biggest gripe about the Telcom Act of 1996, while it loosened up copper lines, cable and fiber were excluded.

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Trollface

So is this gonna be Obamacom or what?

This Compact, he said, has developed over the past hundred years of telephone service, and it's the FCC's job to ensure that it's not broken during the IP-transition – as much as some telecoms would like to have free rein in the emerging digital wonderland.

Bad telecoms. They should be nationalized forthwith. Do they actually DO anything? We already had to give monopoly to Ma Bell, and look how that ended. Antitrust, breakups, the whole enchilada...

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Boffin

Re: So is this gonna be Obamacom or what?

"We already had to give monopoly to Ma Bell, and look how that ended."

Yeah, we could have avoided the horror of the invention of the transistor if we'd kept them small.

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Re: So is this gonna be Obamacom or what?

"Yeah, we could have avoided the horror of the invention of the transistor if we'd kept them small."

...and that pesky UNIX stuff...

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Those values span a wide range of aspects. Wheeler mentioned operational values, giving examples of access, interconnection, public safety, and national security.

A telephone call is the same as Angry Birds

Therefor all apps must provide wiretapping facilities for "national security", right?

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Power supply

We just had a big ice storm here in Toronto, my power was off for 4 days.

My POT analog phone kept working.

My Cell lost signal after a day as the batteries in the local tower died.

People who had IP phones had no power for the modem/router/TA... Even some who had power lost service when a box up the street lost power.

I could get an IP phone over my existing internet service for half the price, but I'm not sure I want such a fragile service.

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Re: Power supply

Perhaps that's one of the things that should be brought up: power failover.

If we look at this from the angle of, "We need to update the telephone system. What should we be doing?" I say let give them all the input we can.

- As you mentioned, POTS provides its own DC power which allow phones to operate without need for mains. Perhaps something like this should be preserved.

- How will a switch to IP telephone affect telephone access: numbers, area codes, exchanges, and zoning? Will they be preserved or change to reflect a larger potential access pool? If telephone access need not be tied to geography anymore, could any telephone number, not just a cell number, be portable from place to place?

- While on the subject of fax machines, many consumer and enterprise devices interact with POTS systems, typically by way of an analog modem (faxes use modems, too, just to a different signal spec). Since retrofitting to an all-IP system may be cost-prohibitive, an assurance that analog modems can transit safely could be in order at least in the short term.

- Which version of IP will the new system use? More than likely IPv6 since it would be a relatively clean slate and provide much more room for growth. If all new telephone devices were to be aligned to a single 64-bit network prefix, that still leaves an umpteen number of possible numbers for each device (based on my rough math, about 10,000,000 entries for a population approaching 10 billion). We can figure out the organization as we go, but there's plenty of leeway for it.

- Someone mentioned security in communications vs. government oversight. I don't know if one can make a guaranteed secure communication between Alice and Bob that's proof against Mallory or Gene MITM'ing it. However, we can perhaps at least establish a system by which the average conversation, so far as it is aware, cannot be idly picked out of the air by way of a system like TLS (perhaps in an improved or modified form) to handshake an encrypted link between the parties. My concern about this, however, is that any security protocol weakens over time, and this would create the occasional problem of updating/upgrading devices so as to replace protocols as they age.

That's all off the top of my head. But let's look at this more constructively. If we're going to establish a new telephone system, instead of complaining about conspiracies and the like, why don't we voice constructive comments and so on and and at least try to tell them what we actually want? Whether or not they listen is perhaps beyond us, but at least we'll have honestly voiced ourselves.

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Re: Power supply

In theory, wireline telephone numbers have been disconnected from geography since 1997 when local number portability was mandated.

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Re: Power supply

"In theory, wireline telephone numbers have been disconnected from geography since 1997 when local number portability was mandated."

Yes, but what about the area codes as well? I'm talking about telephone numbers that can follow a person on a global scale. After all, one VOIP packet is not so different from the next. Cell phones come closest now, but due to the network structure, there's the matter of roaming. Perhaps I think a bit too ambitiously since even IPv6 relies on the address to facilitate routing, but something of the sort could at least be looked at.

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Re: Power supply

It seems like it should be pretty trivial on the network side. To oversimplify, isn't it DSL without the frequency filters to prevent interference with the POTS part. I'd think the existing 48V would be enough for a low power processor to maintain emergency communications in the event of a mains outage albeit not at speeds needed to stream HD video but then it doesn't need to. The real PITA is going to be like the digital TV transition since both systems will have to be active simultaneously as people switch. Either way, Congress will ensure it will take at least a year to perform the crossover and that's only once people can just buy an IP phone and have it work like any other phone. Of course many folks will still wait until the last week of the twice extended deadline because they can't be bothered; sometimes it's just easier to pull the bandage off quickly in one go than to slowly savor the slow extraction of each hair.

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Re: Power supply

Well, to each his own. Some people prefer the short, sharp shock while others are more comfortable easing in with the slow, deliberate approach.

Another thought arises. If the new IP phone world does use IPv6, there is a strong likelihood that it would be very easy to break the current paradigm of all the phones in a site be bonded to the same line and number. With IPv6 phones, each one could be individually addressable. However, while possible, it may not be desired, so a provision may be needed that allows someone to link phones together so they may act much like the old-style phones. It would be more complicated than this, for sure, since the old style also allowed for such things as easy passover from one phone to the next as well as conference calling/eavesdropping using another phone on the same circuit, you get the point. This is one of those significant changes that would need to be negotiated very carefully, as this kind of transition can get particularly jarring.

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Re: Power supply

"People who had IP phones had no power for the modem/router/TA... Even some who had power lost service when a box up the street lost power."

Transitioning to an IP network does not mean that you will lose your POTS line. There will just be IP behind it, rather than a PSTN network.

The problem is that FCC in the USS and the CRTC in Canada have established regulations on how PSTN operators should interconnect, and those regulations all mandate TDM connectivity, based on T1 increments. That has to change.

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not for 911 location

911 is the big bugaboo for IP. with wireline, somebody picks up the phone at 123-666-6666, by definition it is within up to 100 yards ($40 wireless handset) of the connection point at 123 Anywhere Street. it is NOT with IP, you can unplug the phone and set it back in anywhere, assuming the building infrastructure doesn't tie specific ports on the data switch to specific cubes.

consider BigCo, office complex two blocks long, with operations in 60 other US cities. the network is collapsed going into the IP phone network, so the San Fransisco branch office, East, looks to be in the same location as Puerto Rico's devices plant. so where do you send the ambulance if the guy on 111-666-6666 calls, gasps, groans "my chest!" and the phone hits the floor.

that one has NOT been sorted out, and CANNOT be sorted out unless the IP phonesets use GPS. which incidentally does not work inside buildings.

not just disconnected from geography, but disconnected from reality, as far as emergency services is concerned. a tough issue.

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what 48V?

power over Ethernet is not supplied from the central office. an IP phone that has a wall wart is not powered from the central office. you can't deliver office battery tens of thousands of wire feet to a DSL box, because the current it needs is way beyond what you can run that distance. remote-power DSL stuff typically uses line power on multiple pairs of 300 volts delta at low power, which is the capacity of the wire plant, and typically takes 6 to 8 pairs to supply enough current. there is still not enough for a fiber-controller DSL system.

with IP phones, you don't have central 48V battery, which last disaster I heard of when even battery plant died, in New Orleans, only lasted 6 days when AC and generator fuel all ran out during a hurricane and flooding.

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not for now

present IP interconnects to the global PSTN are done by translation to a TDM backbone. you can keep that for the forseeable future, as long as equipment is made and supported, fake it on breakout cards that tie into gigabit ethernet backbones that are well-proven in the field, or replace it all, as SS7 replaced signal tones to kill the Captain Crunch era. plenty of technology to plod along with.

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Re: what 48V?

The 48V that is already on the existing POTS line and currently coexists with DSL connections. Sure, it wouldn't handle the general day to day traffic but it may, or may not, be enough to handle emergency comms in the event of a power outage. It wouldn't be a long term solution but as you point out back up systems aren't always capable of being used as a permanent replacement and often aren't intended to be, just like the tiny spare tire in the trunk of my car.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 1997 when local number portability was mandated.

There were a lot of asterisks on that law. We moved in 2003. My roommate wanted to keep our existing phone number plus the calling plan we had (metro DC as local calling instead of the usual smaller local cluster). After running through the options she scrapped the idea as too frelling expensive and opted for a new number with a flat fee for all national calls dialing plan.

It was actually an amusing conversation from my end of things. She said the plan would cost something like $65/month, a huge jump from our $16/month plan. I told her that even if I told her she was only getting $8/month from me for the new phone bill she should take the plan because even without my money it was less than the cost of her share of our MCI long distance plan (anywhere from 60% to 25% of her typical long distance bill).

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Re: what 48V?

Well that's not much of a change from normal ISDN. There most of your phones were powered from your PBX, and when that fails only very few phones would work, if any at all.

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Last mile

I'm assuming they are on about dragging the last mile connections into the 21st century. The back-haul infrastructure would already be packet based, no? IFAIK: SS7 can already do IP back-haul

Or is this just an excuse to ditch any requirements to provide POTS analogue service. Not that I care; I'm currently considering a "naked" DSL plan from one of the local providers. It appears that the local UFB rollout has fibre down the other side of my street, but not mine. Just need to tot up the costs of "naked" dsl + voip vs the plan I'm currently on; then again do I really need or want a "land line" number at all

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Already done

Most of the transition work is already done. The phone backhaul systems are all VoIP already.

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The whole thing is just a discussion about ditching a federally mandated requirement to actually install and maintain last mile infrastructure. The telcos want to do it all over wireless, and their puppet lobbyist FCC chariman is only too happy to oblige.

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Trollface

Hurling

"A telephone call is the same as Angry Birds"

Ok so to dial 8 I need to knock down 8 boxes and proceed to the next stage to dial the next number damn only knocked down one box :(

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Holmes

Well, it'll certainly make the job easier for the US NSA!

Think of the savings to the NSA, no more conversion of telco call record databases or installation of costly wiretaps. Once it's all IP based they'll be hooked right up, I'm sure the rest of the worlds Intelligence services are just as eager for IP conversions.

Guess I can throw this tinfoil hat away now....

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Re: Well, it'll certainly make the job easier for the US NSA!

Actually not really. It's not like they use Wireshark. They need specialized equipment anyhow.

The big game changer is of course encryption. VoIP allows you to turn on meaningful encryption. While this may not be immediately possible, you can set it up between friends if you want to.

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Anonymous Coward

why not?

We USians just spent several years lining the pockets of the TV makers in all the confusion of switching to digital TV, why not give telephone IP handset sales a shot in the arm too? Maybe in 3 or 4 years, the relevant authorities can mandate a switch from 120 volt appliances to 270 volt appliances. Then later, require everyone to switch over to natural gas for heating instead of their existing electrical/wood/coal/fuel oil. There's nothing our Gov't won't do to help sales in one sector or another. I mean, there's nothing our Gov't won't do to help make our lives better.

I'm not a utopian like most of you, and fail to see any overarching benefit to forcing everyone to throw away perfectly good, reliable analog telephones just to switch over to something new and shiny. Yeah, there might be a few benefits, but do they really outweigh the drawbacks?

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Re: why not?

You do realize that your phone company will still happily provide you either with a normal "analogue" phone line or with some CPE to get you a "analogue" phone line in your home.

And they will also happily make it compatible with pulse dialing so they can charge you extra for enabling DTMF.

Nobody forces you to throw away anything.

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Send a what?

"My home FAX, how do I deal with it?"

In the words of Linda La Hughes; Bin it.

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Re: Send a what?

Unfortunately fax is still used, especially among Japanese HQ'd companies. Also the messages to dump gas into the national grid are sent by fax as well.

I absolutely wish that technology would just die out, but there's always some task in a company which has always been done by fax - and as soon as you propose ripping it out they start going WHOA.

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ILECs

ILECs have for many years received special treatment, along the lines that Ma Bell received when she was the only one (with minor local exceptions).

Having enjoyed those for many years, ILECs seek to retain the bennies and ditch the responsibilities. They don't want to provide access to CLECs with their new systems, especially the fiber-based ones.

I don't care how ILECs provide their service - fiber, copper, IP, whatever - as long as they live up to their responsibilities.

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In an all-IP network, a packet is a packet is a packet.

Yeah, yeah. Right up until Uncle Waldo dies because his packets for the remote relay for his open heart surgery got stuck behind Johnny Dooshwad downloading his 2PB of pr0n. QoS will always be needed, it's just a matter of setting the parameters rationally.

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Re: In an all-IP network, a packet is a packet is a packet.

Trouble is, I don't think you CAN set the parameters rationally. The big reason is that some packets will always try to cheat: disguising themselves as higher-profile packets or using encrypted channels where their identity is obscured. So in other words, the moment you try to set a limit, the packet cheaters will tailor themselves to the loophole and ram through it like a runaway lorry.

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Re: In an all-IP network, a packet is a packet is a packet.

"The big reason is that some packets will always try to cheat:"

IP doesn't mean public. It would be madness to put the public telephone network on a public platform. The replacement IP core would either be a single purpose voice network, or it would be part of a private MPLS core where there's no incentive for packets to cheat.

It's even conceivable that a telephony core could use IP addressing with circuit or connection-oriented switching. As long as the external facing interfaces comply with whatever standard the FCC sets, the telcos are free I'd imagine to design the most efficient core they can.

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Re: In an all-IP network, a packet is a packet is a packet.

Well one also has to consider that congestion on the "real Internet" is extremely rare. The only points where you have congestion is close to the user.

So it's entirely conceivable to put VoIP over the public Internet, at least as a backup solution. However since fibreoptic cables between datacentres are not very expensive, it makes sense to just run your own fibre when you are already peering voice.

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Re: In an all-IP network, a packet is a packet is a packet.

Just curious. If fiber between datacenters isn't so expensive, why do I keep hearing about lots of "cold fiber"?

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