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How to Plan for the Post-POTS Future

Brian Jackson Alamy Stock Photo_FPTY0E.jpg

Image: Brian Jackson - Alamy Stock Photo

Over the last several months there have been countless articles written about the state of POTS (plain old telephone services) lines and their demise. The reality is that copper, analog lines aren’t going to disappear and stop working overnight. The other reality is that there are big changes coming to services that were traditionally served by those products. We know these three things are true:

· Costs will rise. Most carriers have increased their costs for out-of-contract POTs services. Some have increased by 400% or more.

· It will take longer to get service issues resolved.

· New services may not be available at any cost.

Even with rising costs and delayed or unavailable services, organizations still need to provide for and support the applications that have historically relied on POTs services.

Fire alarms, burglar alarms, elevator phones, and other services have used POTs lines and the functionality still needs to be provided. Some industries have relied on traditional phone lines for FAX transmission – such as health care and legal services. Many retailers use POTs lines for their point-of-sale systems.

So – what can communications professionals do to ensure continuity of service when transitioning away from POTS? The first step is to establish a baseline of all services and applications that are copper based. It is important to review all vendor contracts to determine the status of the term, when it expires, and what the vendor options are at the end of the term. If the service is out of term, you need to determine when and if the pricing will change and by how much.

If your analysis shows that the cost will be rising it is probably time to consider the alternatives. For most organizations, it is safe to say that your facilities have an internet connection. But to say that you can just move the current analog services to the internet service is probably an oversimplification. For example, in addition to operational issues there may be some regulatory issues to consider. For medical applications, HIPAA becomes a requirement, as does PCI for retail, and serious considerations for fire alarm systems and NFPA 72 compliance. For example, NFPA 72 requires that fire alarm systems must be connected to the Public Switched network via a loop start connection and have 8 hours of standby power. This functionality is not a standard feature in internet connections.

It's important to start a conversation with your current vendors early in the process to see what products and services they offer which are either currently available or on their roadmap for future deployments. Vendors know the severity of their customers' issues and want to keep you as a customer. And there are vendors that can implement solutions rapidly without a major change to your existing infrastructure. Some services can be added to your existing network and others can use alternative technologies such as LTE (cellular).

AT&T for example has announced AT&T Phone for Business – Advanced which is a cloud-based replacement for traditional phone and data lines. It provides analog Voice over IP (VoIP) internet connections that can also support dedicated specialty lines such as fax, alarm lines, elevators, and point-of-sale terminals. It also has LTE capabilities and battery backup.

Likewise, MetTel has a “POTS in a Box" offering that connects with broadband, 4G LTE and/or WiFi. Cellular can be the primary connection or used as a backup in the event of a primary circuit failure. It is also NFPA 72 fire code compliant.

Ooma addresses the POTS replacement issue with a solution that rides on a wireless network. With this solution, there is no need to replace existing hardware. You can keep using your existing devices.

The point is this – there are changes coming to the traditional analog, copper infrastructure and you either need to prepare for them in an organized proactive way or be eventually stuck with rising costs and limited vendor resources.

And the best way to be proactive is to become aware of what the options and alternatives are. Talk to your vendors to discover what their plans are. This includes not just your telecom vendors but your

alarm providers, your facilities people to cover such things as elevator phones, and your compliance department to ensure continued compliance with HIPAA regulations. In the past, those services were essentially separate network connections and managed internally by separate departments. The move to replace POTS lines with a digital service should be planned and managed transition. Or, if you don’t have the in-house resources or the time, consider engaging a technology consultant specializing in cost reduction, technology review and recommendations, and contract negotiations. They'll work with you to determine what you need to know from vendors and what the best option for your business is.