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back to article FCC says US telcos can start moving to IP-based calling, but in baby steps

The Federal Communications Commission has given the official go-ahead for US telcos to experiment with scrapping their traditional, analog phone networks in favor of internet-based alternatives. Thursday's announcement made clear that the technology trials will be entirely voluntary and that customers will be able to opt out. …

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``antiquated time-division multiplexing''?

My dictionary's first entry for `antiquated' is ``obsolete or obsolescent''.

What's obsolete about a mechanism that guarantees adequate, non-jittery, low-latency, non-dropping bandwidth by reserving said BW before putting the call through? It's really amazing---5x5 voice that's available for whatever period of time you're willing to pay for.

Not sure what moral is to be taken away from this...``The cheap is the enemy of the good''? ``Gee-whiz technology blinds people to its inadequacies''?

Oh, and ``analog'' isn't true except for the local loop---everything else is just as digital as IP. If I put a codec in my handset, can I please keep my switched-circuit service?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ``antiquated time-division multiplexing''?

I have often toyed with the idea of an Internet overlay network using high bandwidth circuit switching. If a connection really matters, if you really want this file as quick as you can get it, or you want guaranteed bandwidth for this video-conference, give me some money and you can have it.

You'd get the benefits of a private MPLS VPN but you'd only pay for it when you actually use it.

There's lots of technical stuff to work through, but there's a market for a product to be employed when best efforts just isn't good enough and a leaded-line can't be justified.

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The Timing of it all.

Is it odd that just a little over a week after announcing the future death of Net Neutrality that the FCC gives this go ahead for telecos? Should I soon expect my Google voice to stop working, but still have a functional AT&T "land line"? After all, a "land line" should have priority right? Or so I will be told.

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Headmaster

@MyBackDoor

The basis of the ruling is that Congress did not give the FCC the power to regulate the internet. There are a lot of things in the ruling but that is the basis of it. Congress did give the FCC the power to regulate the land lines.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh great!

Power outage? NO PHONE SERVICE....

Don't bother lecturing me that I should have a UPS etc, the phone company did this for everyone free of charge by law at the exchange.

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Slx

Isn't a large % of the PSTN moved over to VoIP at a trunk level anyway?

I was under the impression (in Europe anyway) that a lot of telcos have been quietly migrating PSTN/ISDN switches to at least sit on an all IP network.

These TDM circuit switches would typically be 1980s - 1990s and even more recent technology.

They're most certainly not analog!

The last examples analog (crossbar and reed relay)switches were gone in the 1990s and even by then they would have only been local switches. The networks have been digital for decades in North America, Western Europe, Japan etc etc etc

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Yes - since BT's system X in 80s most trunk routes are digital

The phone companies claims are a bit disengenous (amazingly). They claim they want to replace the ancient obsolete trunk lines with modern digital stuff, although almost all of it is, and are using this as an excuse to supply you with a voip phone running over the data link you already have and pay for - while still charging you for the separate land line which you won't have.

If experience of the local telco here is any guide they will also block all competing voip products - claiming they damage the quality of service for other users

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Slx

There were quite a few other systems that launched before System X.

The French have been using Alcatel E10 systems since 1972 in their public network as local and transit switches. Full TDM digital stuff since way back then! They've been in use here in Ireland since about 1979.

Ericsson AXE arrived in the late 1970s too. I think BT adopted it in the mid 80s as a competitor to System X to keep costs down by having two suppliers.

In the states Bell Labs/Western Electric 4ESS dates back to 1976 and 5ESS in the very early 1980s.

All this TDM stuff is based on pretty old 1960s/70s era concepts though.

The biggest problem the telcos face now is that the equipment makers are withdrawing support for a lot of TDM switching systems. In Europe they've definitely already begun rolling out alternative technologies at the central office / exchange level anyway.

Moving away from TDM switching doesn't necessarily mean moving away from POTS though. I know for a fact my own POTS line is actually connected to an analogue port on a system controlled by a VoIP softswitch and has been since about 2005.

Just because the network moves to VoIP doesn't mean that dial-tone POTS services will need to disappear.

What's happening here in Ireland though is that all of the FTTC rollout has included VDSL2 gateway modems that include a 2-port VoIP ATA.

Some providers are using them, others are using the exchange-based POTS service. Depends on which packages you opt for and who your ISP/phone provider is, but it works pretty reliably.

Likewise, I haven't had any major issue with UPC's cable phone service which is similarly provided by an ATA in the set top "Horizon" box which combines the TV service, WiFi hub, multi-screen TV server (to iPad app), ATA and voice phone stuff all in a single unit that sits under your TV.

The analogue POTS interface hasn't changed a lot since the 1920s and it's gone through several generations of equipment behind it from simple electromechanical systems, to crossbar, to computerised crossbars and relay systems to digital TDM to digital VoIP.

What I would like to see is a system that could use the exchange batteries to power the ATA/modem/router much like the way power-over-ethernet works. There's plenty of juice in the exchange and the wiring could handle it easily.

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Unhappy

will my home phone still have its own power supply

The Telcos make money on people like me who keep the land line for emergency use. The phone company supplies power to the phone. I don't have to worry about the batteries in my cell phone going dead. I don't have to worry that I just lost power and my computer won't turn on. I can always make a phone call. Caller ID tells emergency services exactly where I am.

Will this change?

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Re: will my home phone still have its own power supply

>Will this change?

Yes!

Here in the UK one of the big issues with the introduction of FTTC and FTTP is the maintenance of power so that the 'land line' service still works when domestic power is out and so people can still make emergency calls. You can still buy and use phones that draw their power from the line rather than from a mains socket - practically all phones that require mains power carry a warning to the effect that they are not suitable for use as an emergency phone, but how many of us take notice and only have DECT phones in our homes?

Years back when I got involved in such matters, it seemed that the network of telephone boxes could form the basis of an emergency phone network - the phone boxes also serving as PoP's for digital services to the street. But as we've seen the number of phone boxes has continued to decline...

So it seems that with the penetration of mobile networks, the school of thought that seems to be gaining ground is that a mobile phone is an adequate fall back if the land line is unavailable.

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Re: will my home phone still have its own power supply

You can still buy and use phones that draw their power from the line rather than from a mains socket - practically all phones that require mains power carry a warning to the effect that they are not suitable for use as an emergency phone, but how many of us take notice and only have DECT phones in our homes?

Two summers in a row, severe storms knocked out power to our area - in town, in the county seat, on a priority circuit that also feeds the county jail and other special-contract customers - for long enough (more than 48 hours) that the batteries in the nearby cell towers died.

We still have a landline, and while most of our phones are wireless, we have a line-powered hard-wired phone in the kitchen. (Plus, of course, I have two or three cheap handsets I keep from the days when I routinely had to test jacks and the network interface, just like I still have an RJ11 crimping tool. Old habits and that.)

We were the only ones in the neighborhood with telephone service. The only ones who could call around to find dry ice for the freezer, or check with the utility to see what the current repair status was. Sure, you could drive 10 miles or so and reach a working cell tower, if you went in the right direction. Not real handy, especially if you needed emergency services.

Universal service has to be non-negotiable for the telcos, and that has to include service during power failures.

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Anonymous Coward

Cost

With AT&T pledging to invest so much cash in this 'upgrade', it will make an already expensive proposition even more so.

We had a solid landline phone service until I lost my job a couple of years ago and had to cut costs and go to vonage as it was half the cost. the call quality is abysmal, huge delays even on local calls, no emergency calls and no phone during power outages. Now gainfully employed again, but the monthly cost for landline is still eye-watering. Also, with their U-verse internet and TV, I believe you get IP phone anyway (could be wrong).

But then, they know it's only grannies and lazy people who are the only ones still using landlines, everyone else is paying through the nose for mobile, and if they wait long enough until the die-hards die out, they can quietly drop the old tech.

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Already There

Comcast already does with with their XFinity service, or at least I assume that's how they do it. Cable modem with built-in VoIP adapter and (optional) battery pack. Of course, if they were smart, they'd tweak the CM software so that a VoIP phone connected via a LAN port could also use the number, then people could use their laptop for phone calls as well as Skype calls.

Given the number of people who use cordless phones and probably don't have a backup wired phone, I'd say a lot of people lose phone service when the power goes out.

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Re: Already There

In Germany we have VOIP routers on most new connections (if you order broadband, it is automatic that you get VOIP, you have to specifically request ISDN or analogue).

The router accepts VOIP telephones and has a DECT receiver as well.

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Re: Already There

>In Germany we have VOIP routers on most new connections

I suspect that AVM played a small part in this, by getting the Fritz!Box widely adopted as the default ISP supplied router, unlike the UK where ISP's have tended to provide a more basic router.

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Slx

Re: Already There

Similar setup emerging here in Ireland since FTTC rollouts have happened in a big way.

The telcos all provide a router that contains an ATA with 2 phone jacks. The brand varies (one of them actually uses Fritzbox) but, the spec is very similar.

Depending on which telco/ISP you're with, they can either use the exchange-based PSTN/POTS voice system line-shared with VSDL2 from the local cabinet, or if they prefer just provide you with VDSL2 and use the VoIP service in the modem/router.

The strange thing though is that *ALL* the routers contain the VoIP gear, regardless of whether it's used or not.

You can opt for a 'broadband only' service or one with a dial tone, it's up to you / your choice of package and ISP/phone provider.

But it looks like this kind of stuff will really reduce demand on for 'classic' PSTN lines.

In this market anyway, the uptake of PSTN lines is falling off quite steeply in recent years and that drop off seems to be accelerating all the time. It's a combination of people moving to cable and VoIP solutions and probably more significantly, a lot of people going for broadband-only connections at home and just using mobiles as their voice connection.

I know a lot of people who have a landline for VDSL2 or ADSL2+ and actually never even plugged the phone into the jack on the wall! Many of them wouldn't even be able to tell you their landline number (and they definitely do have one!)

It's a useful, trustworthy but rapidly dying technology.

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Re: Already There

Yes, the AVM routers are very good and being 'home grown', with a long history in telecomms, they were in a good position to push their routers through. They are excellent, I've used Netgear, Linksys and a few others over the years, but the extra money an AVM costs (when not subsidised by the telco) is worth every penny.

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BASTARDS!

AT&T rolled a client of mine yesterday over to VOIP-> told them they had to upgrade or lose service. Had no choice. Totally screwed the network configurations and didn't even think about the damn fax machine (which requires a physical line). Took me 4 hours to recover the network connectivity with all the bits & pieces they have..

Already emailed client with this article, there will be one super-pissed off lawyer's office (they were already pissed off, they really should have checked with their IT company, me, before letting anybody touch their network. Hard Lesson) tomorrow. I plan on being there for AT&T's explanation as they return the client to their original service config and monetary amount these lawyers get.

:|

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The big question is how it's done

If you have well made networks with lots of spare capacity, as it should be, there should be no problem. However ISPs are now looking at saving every penny which includes capacity.

If you want to do VoIP over a network with congestion you will need to have to do QoS and that can only save you to a certain degree.

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I think few readers have understood what this is. This is not about converting subscribing lines to VoIP. Those could and mabe VoIP now. The FCC doesn't care about that.

But the FCC regulates interconnects between carriers, in order to maintain what passes for a level playing field. Those interconnects are all DS3s and T1s, and SS7 over T1s. The FCC is now going to introduce standards so that carriers can interconnect over IP. Many carriers are all IP already, with the only TDM bits being the mandated interconnects with the local LECs.

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This may be a preparation...

by the FCC to declare ISPs a "common carrier", and thus be able to MANDATE network neutrality under that classification.

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There is a simple more sinister reason. In the late 90's got Congress refine come carry status. Sure if some wants access the the a telco plant they have to let them. Ifthe want access to the last mile of analog they have to let them, But that's the key analog. If the last mile is not analog so long to bad the local telcos do not have to let you have access to the last mile of IP lines

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21CN

BT in the UK have already done this with their 21CN network

http://www.samknows.com/exchanges/21cn_overview

this now covers around half of the 5600 exchanges in the UK which means that many millions of subscribers are using this network.

Could the US telcos learn from BT's experience rather than run their own trials?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 21CN

Indeed and if you're on Sky, TalkTalk or Virgin (that's about 8-10 million homes) then your phoneline has likewise been IP for several years.

The only places which still use ATM are the smaller exchanges which BT Openreach forget about until they get bribed by the taxpayer to upgrade them.

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Slx

Re: 21CN

US carriers are already using VoIP extensively and many are already running all-IP networks.

This is largely an issue with the FCC regulations catching up with reality.

In a lot of cases TDMoIP using systems that emulate TDM circuits across a MPLS or IP network.

That's common in Europe too, it's certainly being done here in Ireland to cope with the mix of new and legacy technologies.

Ultimately, the legacy TDM switches just get replaced with IP gear that does the same job.

Many of them even have upgrade paths that allow that to happen while still retaining much of the old switch.

It's not all as drastic as some people are making out here and a lot of it is to do with behind the scenes stuff that won't necessarily result in your landline being provided by an ATA in your living room.

From an end users' prospective, VoIP is just as capable of providing you with a dial tone + analog voice service as TDM technology is.

There's also a massive difference between carrier-grade VoIP services over managed, closed, carrier-owned networks and internet-based VoIP services that use your ISP's connection to the outside world.

If you're using VoIP technology on a carrier's network, your traffic is managed right from your terminal their VoIP soft switches and then onwards. So, it shouldn't really make any difference to quality of service.

It's VERY different from plugging an ATA into an internet connection and relying on the public internet to carry your VoIP traffic back to the soft switch.

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Unhappy

a few questions

(1) as already asked; what happens when the power goes out? do i still have phone service?

(2) if it's all IP, will there be enforced net neutrality?

(3) will I acutally get DSL or something else?

(4) will there be enforced last mile line sharing at reasonable cost?

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Re: a few questions

Out hear both Comcast and ATT have battery back up and plugs to put generators at the B box, For u verse there is a bttery back up. Comacast modem has a battery back up for the phone.

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Re: a few questions

Out hear both Comcast and ATT have battery back up and plugs to put generators at the B box, For u verse there is a bttery back up. Comacast modem has a battery back up for the phone.

Yeah? And how long do those batteries last? Longest power outage I've had to live through at this location was about 72 hours, but after December's ice storm there were folks a few miles from here who went more than 10 days. Will AT&T guarantee their service lasts that long? If not, they're welcome to shove it just as far as they possibly can.

(Frankly, I plan to never buy anything from AT&T again anyway, where I can find a viable competitor. They send me a direct-mail solicitation for their feeble local ADSL service at least once a week. How big a marketing budget are their current victims supporting?)

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Clerk

VOIP is like the dog that can stand on his hind-legs and walk. He can't do it very well, but it is a miracle that he can do it at all. Switched circuits are needed for reliable and secure voice transmission.

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no, no, when its all VOIP, its becomes a DATA SERVICE and not a PUBLIC UTILITY. no more common carrier, no more line sharing. AT&T's wetdream comes true, they can revert to the closed proprietary network monopoly of the 1960s.

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