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End Users Will Face a Bumpy Road to Decommissioning Copper

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If you look back at my previous No Jitter article, “The Decommissioning of Copper Gets Real,” my focus was about how concrete the movement towards decommissioning copper is and why. With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated deadlines rapidly approaching, we must assess their impact on your organization.
Copper-based services, mainly plain old telephone service (POTS) lines and primary rate interface (PRI) services, are going away. It has become too expensive to support and maintain these services, and carriers want out of this business. Carriers have experimented with many ways to (gently) influence end users to move away from these services. However, approximately 40 million of these services remain in use. Vendors are getting serious about customers removing copper services by drastically increasing prices, refusing to renew contracts, and instituting firm cut-off dates to remove them.
How does an end-user organization deal with these vendor tactics and the eventual disconnection of these services? This is a complicated question with many possible answers. Copper services have been the workhorse of many unique applications within the enterprise for decades. It has been an inexpensive, stable answer to many business solutions. Fax machines, modems, fire alarms, burglar alarms, and elevator lines have been the most common applications for copper services. However, there are many other applications for POTS lines: Power failure backup lines, blue light security phones, security gates, point of sales, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) applications, and out of band management. You may make different choices when seeking alternate solutions based on your application.
The road to eliminating POTS from your network may be a very bumpy and complex ride—which is why you must map out a plan to reach your destination.
Potential Roadblocks
One roadblock you may encounter when deciding what alternative to use is what emergency responders require. Before you select a solution, it’s a good idea to notify your local fire marshal because rules aren’t consistent from one jurisdiction to another. For example, each city decides which version of the National Fire Code to adopt. They align their preferred life safety line format to their code interpretation. (Note to the reader) I’ve had public safety officials tell me that they know the fire code, but they don’t know the technology. It’s beneficial to educate yourself on solutions that will meet the expectations of public safety officials and how technology will best meet the emergency services requirements. Some jurisdictions still don’t allow wireless or voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) as a means of satisfying their life/safety requirements.
POTS service has always been a solid, stable solution for many reasons, especially since it doesn’t require an external electrical power source. This is a key reason why POTS lines have been a simple go-to solution all these years. If the power goes out, POTS lines will still work. Alternate solutions must provide backup power to recreate similar reliability of POTS lines. There’s no direct cross-connection to the Carrier demark. So, there are still points of failure since ancillary devices are required to replicate POTS services.
Process of Elimination: Map Out a Plan
Planning the elimination of POTS and copper services is the key to success. When mapping out your plan, determine what services can move to the cloud. Are you still using POTS lines for fax? If so, consider an electronic faxing service as an alternative to save you money and offer flexibility that a fixed fax machine cannot.
Next, identify what wireless services can displace POTS lines. Plenty of solutions today offer a wireless or LTE solution. In some instances, wireless services can be a great alternative to POTS. Some burglar alarms, elevator lines, and fire panels (life/safety) can work well on wireless services. It’s important to work closely with your vendor and your local emergency jurisdictions before making this move. If acceptable to local authorities, a proof-of-concept study and rigorous testing may prove helpful in making this decision.
Several vendors are currently developing and offering POTS alternatives: Ooma, Alianza, and Marketspark to name a few. Each vendor has its unique approach to meeting this challenge. Most include some ancillary device to replicate the POTS lines, bypass the demark or offer wireless redirection. Some research would prove fruitful in deciding the right solution(s) for your organization. One solution may not meet all your needs, so you may have to deploy more than one. Considering the assistance of a knowledgeable consultant will go a long way in navigating this kind of project.

Denise 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.