Recently, the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC) held its annual conference in Dallas, Texas, providing a wonderful opportunity to catch up with knowledgeable colleagues to assess the issues impacting our industry and the hot topics affecting our clients. As part of that client-facing emphasis, I had the opportunity to co-present with my colleague, Stacey Hotaling
, on the impact that the retirement of telco copper services is having on organizations.
Although the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Order 10-72A1 did not forcibly bring about the end of plain old telephone services (POTS)
, it did, as of August 2022, take the pricing handcuffs off the carrier’s that previously required them to offer discounted pricing to the resellers of these services. But on a grander scale, the carriers are very much interested in becoming unshackled from supporting legacy copper services – and this goes well beyond POTS services.
As we discussed at the conference, the outcomes of this have been steady and often dramatic price increases
coupled with sometimes surprisingly short notifications that the carrier will no longer support these services. At a high level, the copper services we are discussing fall into four categories:
- Digital subscriber lines (DSL)
- Special circuits
- Primary rate interface (PRI) (T1)
Of these services, the one that seems to get the most attention is POTS. This traction makes sense based on its prevalence, and the various uses POTS can still play within an organization. Fortunately, several solutions are on the market to help organizations pick the right one to meet their specific application needs (e.g., fax, alarm, elevator, etc.) and migrate off their copper services.
Ditto for DSL; we often find this service still used where organizations may have neglected to investigate available broadband or Ethernet services that can provide better bandwidth and/or better cost.
Still, occasionally, we find organizations with special circuits on their bills. Often, these remain remnants of legacy networks not fully removed as part of a previous conversion to Internet protocol (IP). Or, in some cases, as specialized alarm circuits used years ago but without clear evidence of abandonment or what they were used for, fear prevented anyone within the organization for taking responsibility to remove them.
That brings us to PRI services. Of the four types of legacy copper services, PRI (and in some cases T1) services still serve as the critical vehicle for transporting an organization’s outbound and inbound calls (DID and toll free). Migrating off PRI/DID services, depending upon the organization’s telecom architecture, can be a relatively simple and straight forward endeavor. Or it may offer enough challenges and complexity that it will require a fair timeline to accommodate the planning and management of the migration to avoid potential (serious) disruption. Under complex circumstances, these aren’t the services an organization wants to be surprised to find out their carrier will retire shortly.
Some Issues to Consider
For organizations using on-premises-based communication systems equipped with PRI considering a move to UCaaS, it’s important to realize that moving to unified communications as a service (UCaaS) eliminates the on-premises trunking entirely, thus solving the issue of replacing the PRI’s.
You must understand where you want to end up because you wouldn’t want to go through the cost and effort to convert from PRI to session initiation protocol (SIP) only to start over with a project to move to UCaaS. On the other hand, organizations that intend to keep their premise-based communication system(s) in place will need to identify if their system can accept a native SIP handoff or if they will need a SIP service that provides a PRI handoff. When considering SIP services, there are at least three variations to be aware of:
- SIP call paths delivered by a carrier over their transport facilities (typically, the major carriers)
- SIP call paths delivered by a provider over the customer’s Internet dedicated for voice traffic
- SIP call paths delivered by a provider over the customer’s Internet shared across voice and data traffic
The latter two variations are referred to as the Over the Top SIP service (OTT). Each variation has pros and cons associated with performance, delivery time, troubleshooting, and cost.
Organizations following a distributed architecture with PRIs installed into local on-premises systems across many locations may warrant a change in architecture to move to a more centrally deployed SIP model—using a limited number of nodes—but still supporting a reasonable level of diversity/redundancy. Organizations currently following a distributed architecture may sometime use multiple carriers to provide their PRI services—this typically increases the effort around managing and coordinating the port orders to move to the new SIP provider.
A move from PRI to SIP also potentially impacts analog devices – most commonly fax machines. In some organizations, faxing is still heavily used, and the ability to support fax machines with a high degree of success is a critical part of the SIP migration. The ability to stand behind and support faxing is a question to be asked of prospective SIP providers before procuring the service if faxing is an important factor within your organization.
So, despite the attention given to the demise of POTS services, organizations using legacy PRI services are the constituents that could find themselves in dire straits if surprised with a retirement notice from their carrier. If you don’t already know your carrier’s PRI retirement plans, you must take this opportunity to contact them. Identify what their expected timelines are for retirement as well as cost increases. The time is now to determine your organization’s strategy and implementation to exit PRI services and avoid the stress and possible disruption of having to do this on short notice.
Ted is writing on behalf of the SCTC, a premier professional organization for independent consultants. SCTC consultant members are leaders in the industry, able to provide best of breed professional services in a wide array of technologies. Every consultant member commits annually to a strict Code of Ethics, ensuring they work for the client benefit only and do not receive financial compensation from vendors and service providers.