No Jitter is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

POTS Replacement – More Complex Than You Might Think


Photo of VoIP phone
Image: redpixel -

Most businesses by now have migrated from legacy telephony to VoIP – either in part or in whole – but there’s more to the story than switching from TDM to IP. That transition has been underway for many years, and as telcos gain regulatory assent to decommission their copper networks, plain old telephony service (POTS) is clearly in terminal decline. 

With fewer regulations in place to ensure accessible, affordable phone service, prices for POTS-based service are now rising, and that can be reason enough to move from legacy to VoIP. Even so, many businesses are choosing to stay with premises-based legacy telephony. But as costs go ever higher, they too will reach a breaking point and make the transition. 


POTS Replacement Isn’t Just a Cost Issue – It’s About Service Reliability Too 

Rising costs are a valid concern, but there’s another issue with POTS that can pose significant risks to your business that you may not have yet considered. The issue is service reliability, where five 9’s uptime has historically been the gold standard for failsafe telephony service. Unfortunately, the infrastructure that enables this reliability is also in terminal decline. It’s no longer realistic to expect five 9’s service when considering all of your POTS needs.   

Much of this is due to regulatory changes. In addition to lifting price caps that have triggered unprecedented hikes in subscriber charges, the FCC has also recently stopped requiring carriers to maintain their copper networks. Both changes align with the long-held desire among incumbents to exit the POTS business and shift their focus completely to supporting digital forms of telephony. 

Copper networks may provide highly reliable phone service, but as the infrastructure ages, it’s not being maintained nor is it being replaced or upgraded. Not only will the frequency of service outages rise, but it will take longer to restore service since fewer resources will be available – technicians, trucks, inventory, etc. - to properly support POTS.  

Another contributing factor is the analog nature of legacy technology since they cannot be monitored or repaired remotely, unlike digital networks. Over time, as weather and neglect take their toll, their reliability will inevitably be impacted at some point. 


Two Types of Risk Related to Reliability Issues 

With these reliability concerns in mind, there are risks to your business that you didn’t have to consider before. While rising costs are the main driver to move on from legacy telephony in the office, there’s another use case for POTS where cost is really a secondary issue.  

This has to do with mission-critical services which all facilities-based businesses must support. This primarily pertains to public safety communications, such as with fire alarms, elevators, escalators, security callboxes, security alarms — all of which are POTS-based. The need for highly reliable telephony service here is clear, but there are, in fact, two types of risk at stake. 

The first, of course, is the safety and security of people. Depending on your environment there is a wide range to consider — offices need to protect employees, property managers need to protect tenants, retailers need to protect customers, and campuses need to protect patients, staff, students, etc. One obvious form of public safety communications is 911 service, but that’s a distinct use case outside the scope of this article. 

Regardless of your environment, compliance is the second type of risk related to POTS. There are multiple safety codes that must be followed to ensure reliable public safety communications. Two well-known examples include the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72) and the safety code for elevators and escalators (ASME 17.1). This may not be top of mind for IT or telecom managers, but it’s very important for property and facilities managers. 


Three Ways Forward 

POTS replacement for mission-critical services poses different challenges from desktop telephony and switched phone systems like a PBX. To help business leaders address these challenges, three options are outlined below.  

In choosing among these options, keep in mind that your decisions should go beyond just IT or telecom managers. Their priorities may be driven mainly by the rising costs of POTS, but when it comes to the risks outlined herein related to mission-critical communications, other costs and outcomes could be far more consequential. Compliance and human safety risks are of great concern to property and facilities managers, and to fully address POTS replacement, they need to be part of the decision-making. 

Option 1 – Stay the course 

This would be the path of least resistance, where the status quo for using POTS remains. The rising cost of service may simply be viewed as a small line item that is worth the trade-off compared to the effort involved for replacing POTS — even if that change will reduce telephony costs longer-term.  

Inertia is a powerful force for not adopting new technology, but in this case, the risks around mission-critical communications are not being considered, or even ignored. This is a likely scenario where IT or telecom leaders are making the decisions about POTS alone and are perhaps assuming that these risks are negligible. That said, this option is not a good long-term plan given that service reliability will undoubtedly decline, and with that, the safety and compliance risks will only increase. 

Option 2 – Full-scale POTS replacement 

This would be a rip-and-replace plan, which may seem like an easy choice — but only at face value. Sometimes a clean slate approach is best when adopting new technology, as you can bypass the integration issues between old and new. That is not the case here. 

There is little risk if you are only migrating from TDM to VoIP for desktop telephony. That form of POTS replacement should work well, as voice traffic runs seamlessly across both types of networks. Mission-critical communications, however, cannot be routed over IP which adds complexity to a full-scale POTS replacement. 

Perhaps more daunting is the task of replacing all the endpoints and wiring that support mission-critical communications. Not only would there be a wide variety of equipment to replace from various vendors, but the cost of modernized devices would likely be prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, many of these devices are in hard-to-reach areas, requiring far more effort than replacing desk phones in the office. Also consider that replacing all that equipment could disrupt operations, and if supply chain issues arise the upgrade may have to be done in phases. 

Option 3 – POTS replacement but keeping existing setup 

This middle-ground approach is not only far more practical, but far less disruptive. With this approach, unlike Option 1, you can do something about the current state of POTS and mitigate the risks. And while Option 2 also involves POTS replacement, Option 3 does not require rip-and-replace (which could be more problematic than you might expect).  

While some POTS replacement solutions are built around going with modern devices, other solutions keep the existing setup for mission critical endpoints in place. Not every business has the appetite for a clean slate move away from POTS for all use cases, and it’s more than a cost issue. The latter may be the main concern for telecom or IT leaders, but as mentioned earlier facilities and property managers will be looking more at mitigating risk and minimizing any operational disruption. When all of this is taken into consideration, Option 3 should emerge as the best way forward. 


Three Considerations for POTS Replacement Solutions 

Option 1 simply isn’t viable long-term, unless you don’t mind continual cost increases, and/or you don’t believe the risk factor around drop-offs in service reliability is high enough to warrant action. For everyone else, the choices come down to whether you really want a complete break from POTS — regardless of what’s involved — or a nuanced break, where there are innovative approaches that will mitigate the risks without having to replace your legacy endpoints and devices. Both Options 2 and 3 are viable, and to make the best choice for your business, here three key considerations. 

1. Single or multi-vendor solution 

As with most technology solutions, there will be best-of-breed for many components and it’s usually easier to manage this from one vendor. This doesn’t just apply to the initial purchase, but to all the various stages of deployment — installing, provisioning, testing, troubleshooting, etc. If POTS replacement were only about desk phones, this would be easy, but for mission critical communications, there is a wide range of devices across a wide range of physical settings. 

Then you need to consider the carrier services needed to support your telephony needs, both at the desktop and for mission-critical communications. You may well be dealing with multiple service providers for voice and data services — fixed line and wireless — especially if your locations are spread out across multiple regions. The more complex your environment, the more you should consider one solution partner who can manage all the bills associated with these services and providers. 

2. Ability to support compliance requirements 

This is a highly important requirement that may not be properly addressed if you’re only looking for a general POTS replacement solution. If desktop telephony is the only consideration, then the partner you choose may not be able to cover your mission-critical devices. As noted earlier, these devices cannot use the public Internet, which is what a general POTS replacement service will be providing. 

Similarly, there are compliance requirements for the endpoints which are specific to each type, such as fire alarms, smoke detectors, etc. Without that, you will run into safety compliance issues, which is something you probably never had to consider with POTS. This is a form of risk that doesn’t arise with desktop telephony, so you need informed decision-making here when considering solution partners. 

3. Ability to manage POTS and devices remotely 

When moving away from POTS, one of the practical benefits is the ability to remotely monitor and manage these mission critical endpoints. Not all vendors have this capability, especially if going with a best-of-breed solution with various partners. You should look for purpose-built solutions that natively support remote monitoring and management, usually administered from a Web portal. Also consider that because many of these devices will be in enclosed or in hard-to-access locations, remote management capabilities taken on greater importance.  

These remote capabilities should be viewed as a must-have since service reliability is so important for mission-critical communications. In those situations, time is of the essence and your safety responses cannot be compromised because an endpoint has gone offline.  


The Takeaway 

At some point, every business still using POTS will need to make decisions around what this article has outlined. Moving desktop telephony to VoIP is fairly easy and low risk, plus it will reduce telecom costs. While the business rationale for that is clear, it only addresses part of what POTS replacement will entail. Mission-critical communications will need to migrate as well, but the requirements are more complex than desktop telephony, and go beyond what most cloud providers can support. The good news is that viable solutions are in the market today, and this article provides practical considerations to help you choose the right technology partner.