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Good Old POTS is Going Away. Is Your Organization Prepared?

Brian Jackson Alamy Stock Photo_FPTY0E.jpg

Image: Brian Jackson - Alamy Stock Photo
Plain Old Telephony Service (aka POTS), the legacy analog copper phone line, is going away. While this isn’t generally a business concern for human voice telephony (as virtually all have already migrated to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) or mobile) POTS’ sunsetting poses a huge challenge for the myriad of devices and systems engineered to use a POTS line for monitoring and signaling.
The problem is the combination of wireless and VoIP telephony has dramatically reduced the demand for traditional POTS lines. Maintaining complex last-century equipment for an ever-decreasing user base has become untenable—and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has enabled the carriers to (eventually) abandon their traditional POTS infrastructure. FCC reports the number of POTS lines in the U.S. declined from 122 million in 2010 to 41 million in 2019, and many carriers are on a path to drop POTS lines within five years. Service rates for remaining POTS users are rising dramatically as providers are forced to support their remaining POTS infrastructure from a smaller pool of customers. According to the Bureau of Labor, POTS charge rates increased 36% from 2010 to 2021, even as mobile phone rates have declined.
Fire, burglary alarms, elevator, gate entry systems, blue phones, VoIP back-ups, and a range of business integrations use a POTS line for their communications. POTS with a modem has been the easy way to add communication for operations or management to a range of systems over the last 50 yearsand has also been implemented into regulation, such as NFPA 72 and UL 864 for life-safety systems. These regulations specify the functionality of POTS (that Five nines availability) into regulatory statutes that drive enterprise implementations. The multipart challenge here for communication network professionals is how to manage and maintain these systems for your business while also continuing service as needed (for example, with an alarm system). Most facilities have multiple POTS lines for fire and security, and often for other business systems like an ATM machine. A typical branch office or storefront may have 3 POTS lines for fire and security, in addition to lines for actual telephony. For companies with multiple offices across geographies, the POTS changes in each individual geo may come at different times as each local service provider sunsets their POTS infrastructure. Clearly, planning for this transition is an important 2022 activity for many organizations.
Recently, two companies have announced wireless POTS replacement solutions. These solutions take advantage of the mobile network and rate structures that have been put in place for Internet of things (IoT) devices and relatively low usage. These low use devices can have much lower per end-point pricing than typical mobile phones because their overall usage is much lower. A typical fire/alarm POTS line may receive an inbound test call daily or weekly but will only place an outbound call if there is a fire or burglar alarm. From a wireless cost of service, endpoints are dramatically lower than the mobile phone with unlimited dialing and video Internet speeds. Leveraging the mobile network for these new services enables offering a POTS replacement on wireless for equivalent cost, or even less as 5G drives new economies. Both solutions are provided as a service offering through their distribution channels.
First up is Ooma, a UCaaS provider. Ooma recently announced the AirDial, an integrated edge point, and service to make POTS compliant calling across the mobile infrastructure. AirDial uses the T-Mobile wireless infrastructure to provide a wireless alternative, that according to Ooma, easily replaces POTS lines in monitoring solutions. Ooma AirDial designed to serve as a POTS replacement, includes up to four analog connections, wireless and broadband operations, and other features designed to enable easy installation into an existing premise.
The second recent announcement is by Alianza. Alianza announced managed specialty lines, a managed POTS replacement offer built with partners Albion Ventures and solutions partner 10T Solutions. The Alianza solution is intended to be delivered through mobile service providers or mobile virtual network operator and includes devices from 10T Solutions. While the Ooma solution focuses on the POTS lines, the Alianza solution includes potential 5G back-up routing for a remote office—and may need closer integration with the existing IT infrastructure.
Both vendors offer a technology solution that is cost-effective and will meet the regulatory requirements, post POTS. While the offers are made available through each company’s distribution partners, the companies can help with choosing the right partners for your geography and needs.
For organizations, POTS replacement should be a 2022 priority, first to understand the POTS sunset timing in the organizations geographies and carriers, and second to plan for alternative solutions in the building environments. Whether to use the VoIP infrastructure or a new wireless solution to replace POTS will be the major consideration for most organizations. The first step is inventorying your actual POTS lines used for monitoring and other systems. This will allow an IT organization to begin to assess both current providers and options as well as new entrants like Alianza and Ooma to understand which options are best for your needs and available infrastructure. For example, for a site that does not have diversity routing to cover a failure of Internet access, moving POTS to VoIP will, in most cases, require re-engineering the IP infrastructure for redundancy and continuous operations. The alternative of using a separate wireless option for POTS may be a much better solution for many organizations. The Alianza solution can include a 5G router for access path diversity, not only for the POTS monitoring but also for normal data traffic.
If you do not have a POTS replacement plan in place for your organization, now is the time to start a project to consider and plan. Whether we’re ready or not, the sunsetting of POTS and the end of traditional analog telephony is clearly on the horizon. A final salute to the Bell-heads!