Why do we have so many analog ports, and do we need them? This question continues to come up repeatedly in our conversations with clients.
Analog telephones use standard copper wire, connect to plain old telephone service (POTS) lines, are extremely reliable, and have good voice quality. However, they only support employ basic features, like call transfer. This simplicity makes analog phones inexpensive to purchase and easy to use even in the VoIP world. They still have many uses.
The legacy interface and analog telephone lines in enterprise, government, healthcare, and educational institutions are more common than the average telecom person realizes. Potential VoIP/IP telephony customers invariably find analog lines/interfaces that must stay as analog connections for the foreseeable future.
Examples of analog phone applications include:
Hospitals and Nursing Homes – The healthcare industry benefits from the use of low-cost disposable endpoints in use throughout hospitals and residential medical facilities. Analog phones are easy to install, configure, repair, and most likely already located at the site. They’re also employable as dictation equipment, utilized in nurse call stations, code calls, paging, patient hospital bed tracking, plus many other applications. Changing them out would require a huge investment in newer, more complex endpoints and expensive infrastructure upgrades. In these facilities, simplicity for the end user or patient is critical.
Hotels and Motels – Most have heavy investments in PBX systems connected to hundreds of analog telephone sets in guest rooms, common areas, and administrative offices. These PBX systems are often older and lacking in features, but it’s costly for hotels to switch over to more modern, VoIP systems. Challenges include the cost of upgrading hundreds of inexpensive analog sets to more expensive IP phones and the cost of upgrading voice-grade cable (CAT-3) to more high-priced data-grade cabling (CAT-5 or CAT-6) required along with those phones. VoIP systems also require expensive Power- over Ethernet (PoE) switches, and the requisite electrical power and cooling. Fortunately, there are ways to integrate VoIP PBX equipment with the existing analog phones and wiring in a hybrid model, which is considerably more cost-effective than a total forklift upgrade.
Higher Education – Some schools and universities still provide room phones for students that connect to the campus phone system. This adds a level of security as compared to using a personal cell phone when issues arise. Most college campuses across the U.S. employ emergency blue light phones as a preeminent security feature. When someone feels unsafe on a college campus, they can push the call button on the blue tower to reach campus police.
Many universities are complementing traditional campus call stations with two-way mobile apps that let user’s text, send alerts when they feel in danger, and receive bulletins from authorized parties during emergencies.
Lobbies/Break Rooms – One major advantage of an analog telephone station is cost, especially compared to IP telephone sets. This makes them ideal for common or infrequently used areas like lobbies, employee break rooms, waiting rooms, maintenance closets, and remotely located offices that require only basic calling capability.
Fax Machines and Alarm Systems – An analog fax, alarm, or phone system can connect to a VoIP system using analog gateways or adapters. Selecting the right adapter can be a challenge, as the number and types of ports are dependent on the requirements of your VoIP provider, and you’ll likely need a professional to install it. But companies with existing analog equipment still clearly need analog connectivity, at least for now.
Conferencing Endpoints, Point-of-Sale Devices, and Credit Card Readers – Analog telephones aren’t the only type of device that can connect to an analog station port. Other common analog equipment includes desktop and tabletop conferencing phones, point-of-sale readers, and credit card terminals. When one of these is needed, companies should confirm that an analog station port is available on their phone system.
Modems – In the PSTN world, the network provides a constant delay for any particular call – the speed at which data enters the network is always the same as the speed at which it leaves – and modems require this. In an IP network, jitter is a fact of life. It’s manageable on a modest level, using the quality of service (QoS) features available in IP equipment, but only if the network is controllable from end-to-end. If a VoIP network works only across a LAN or a QoS-managed WAN link, there might be a near guarantee of zero packet loss and fairly low jitter. Modems need a continuous audio path. If there is packet loss, the consequences are severe. As a result, other methods of using modems may be required in order to avoid complications; analog connectivity is one way to do this.
Elevator and Emergency Phones – One of the least expensive and most secure ways to provision emergency calling in elevators and elsewhere is via analog. When the phone is accessed, caller ID information immediately transmits to an emergency center. Gateways, software, and other additional equipment are often required to provide this service through VoIP PBX service.
Power Failure Transfer (PFT) and Teletypewriter Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TTY) – A TTY is a special device that lets people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired use the telephone to communicate, by allowing them to type text messages instead of talking and listening.
The technology for PFT and TTY devices has improved over time, and provide an inexpensive way of communicating, especially when power is lost. Since they use the telecommunications grid for electricity, local power isn’t necessary to operate them during an outage.
Technology changes rapidly in the telephony industry and will continue to do so. Eventually, analog endpoints and services will evolve to work over IP or will be eliminated.
For now, analog endpoints will continue to thrive, but IT managers should be on the lookout for alternate methods of providing these services and prepare their businesses to make the change.
For the foreseeable future, expect to see analog ports persist for:
• Alarm system connections
• Telemetry systems
• Elevator and emergency phones
• Analog phones in otherwise unoccupied buildings
• Janitor and network closets
• Phone lines outside a building used to call guards for off-hours access
• Emergency phones as a lifeline to the PSTN
• Analog fax machines that operate the T.30 standard
• TDD support for hearing impaired
• Phones in common areas that have little or no physical security
• That guard shack that is thousands of feet from any building and can be economically accessed only by an old analog line
• Phones in a warehouse, where installing Ethernet for a single phone is too expensive
• Dial-up PC modems, point-of-sale devices, and credit-card readers
• Intercom lines
• Announcement lines
• Turret systems for traders
• Access to mobile channels
• Mobile channel interconnection
• Server connections for healthcare, such as dictation, patient/bed/transport tracking, and nurse call stations
• Legacy key systems
What are your thoughts on the future of analog devices? Share in the comments section below.
"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.