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FCC Preparing Transition To VoIP Telephone Network 250

mantis2009 writes "The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a request for public comment (PDF) on an upcoming transition from the decades-old circuit-based Public Switched Telephone Network to a new system run entirely with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. This is perhaps the most serious indication to date that the legacy telephone system will, in the near future, reach the end of its life. This public commenting phase represents a very early stage in what will undoubtedly be a very complex transition that makes this year's bumpy switch from analog to digital television look relatively easy."
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FCC Preparing Transition To VoIP Telephone Network

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  • Re:Here's a comment (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kylock ( 608369 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @09:58AM (#30309638)
    This could easily lead toward government subsidized data infrastructure. By moving away from pots, this would be the next logical step.
  • How unfortunate... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cornwallis ( 1188489 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @09:58AM (#30309642)

    POTS is and has been stable and secure.

    VOIP... not and never will be.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 03, 2009 @10:16AM (#30309766)

    POTS has never been secure. There's nothing (apart from the law) stopping anyone from tapping a line at any point between a house and the local exchange.

    VoIP can be (and in many cases is) made secure through encryption (SIP TLS, SRTP).

    Even without encryption, VoIP is inherently more secure than a POTS line in terms of the house-to-exchange tapping threat (it is much more difficult to tap a DSL or cable line and extract RTP packets, for example).

    Security from a fraud perspective is also no more of an issue with VoIP than it is with POTS - legacy PBX systems are just as likely to be targets of fraud (call forwarding, two-stage dialing, etc) as VoIP services are.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Thursday December 03, 2009 @10:22AM (#30309804)

    Indeed--- as a result, even the poster children of truck shipping, UPS/FedEx, have moved much of their cross-country shipping to rail. If you order something FedEx to Texas from the Northeast, for example, chances are it'll make a stop in Hutchins, Texas [uprr.com].

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @10:24AM (#30309824) Homepage

    DSL isn't IP over voice. Your typical ADSL configuration is IP running on the same copper alongside voice (or more properly, POTS). It can also be run on copper without POTS (sometimes called "naked DSL"), but the Bells don't like that because it means letting people drop their landlines.

  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @10:25AM (#30309832) Journal

    Paragraph 1 of the attached PDF:

    In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (“Recovery Act”), Congress directed
    the Commission to create a national broadband plan by February 17, 2010, that seeks to “ensure that all
    people of the United States have access to broadband capability and establish[es] benchmarks for
    meeting that goal.”1 Among other things, the Commission is to provide “an analysis of the most effective
    and efficient mechanism for ensuring broadband access by all people of the United States”2 and “a
    detailed strategy for achieving affordability of such service and maximum utilization of broadband
    infrastructure and service by the public.”

    In other words, they are looking to take your "no broadband available" location and make it a "broadband available" location. At the same time, they are looking to make the transition as cost-effective as possible so they will run whatever wires it takes to give you broadband but at the same time they are looking to eliminate duplicate services (running a nationwide-to-every-American PSTN network *AND* a nationwide-to-every-American Broadband Internet connection). They may even be able to use your existing copper to give you a good Internet connection.

    Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, any conversion of your actual home telephone to VoIP would occur (if it ever did at all) well AFTER you had sufficient high-speed Internet to support it. The FCC isn't going to convert everyone to VoIP today, disconnect massive numbers of remote customers who lack broadband, then figure out how to connect to all the outlying areas later.

    In fact, I imagine a lot of what they are going to do is sponsor/mandate DSL implementations, including some sort of repeater technology to break the "local loop distance" barrier and give every American household that has a POTS phone line today access to DSL tomorrow.

    There's a very good chance your existing telco will still be allowed to use the voice portion of your copper to send you POTS telephone service just like you are used to today, though many of them will probably want to become pure-play Internet/DSL providers and give you a VoIP box for your phone (but most will probably make that an Analog adapter so you can still use your existing phone) - that way they can use the entire available frequency band on your copper wires to give you the best Internet speed possible, rather than having to have data in one set of frequencies and voice in another. It also greatly simplifies the gear they have to maintain.

  • by nate_in_ME ( 1281156 ) <(em.htimsetan) (ta) (em)> on Thursday December 03, 2009 @10:32AM (#30309878)
    Ideally, a nationwide VOIP transition would be done at the backbone level, such that the end users would not see a difference in their equipment - essentially keeping the last mile a standard POTS system. However, if they decide not to go that route, I think it's important that the service be a separate entity from a person's choice of broadband service - i.e., not dependent on one having existing broadband service as VOIP is today.

    As far as the power issues go, that could be handled one of two ways, in the event that the last mile is switched over as well:

    • PoE - much like the current phone handsets are, it should be simple enough for the providers to inject power into the wires much like the current system does. This way, new phones could simply pull power off the wire like current phones do. Under this type of setup, it would be assumed that whatever equipment was providing the power injection would be connected to the same backup systems(UPS, generators, etc) as the switching equipment
    • Battery backup locally - it would also be feasible, in the event that phones under this new system required a separate power source at the user equipment, simply to provide a means to install a backup battery, similar to how hard wired smoke detectors still want you to install a 9-volt in the event of a power loss. Based on my experiences as far as how often I've lost power, if the equipment was designed to use as little energy as possible, one battery should be able to last for quite some time. Obviously, YMMV depending on where you live, but there could be an indicator on the phone that would let you know when the battery needed to be replaced.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 03, 2009 @10:53AM (#30310136)

    Why can't IP be linked to a geographical location as well as your PSTN line can? I'm fairly sure that it would be trivial for the phone company to assign static IPs to IP phones and link that to an address, the same as they do with the POTS.

    Half the advantage of Packet8 and Vonage (when they were new) was the option to take it with you wherever you go. Granted, they warned specifically to update your doggone location if you did it, so 911 would work... But frankly, people are too stupid to do it consistently or reliably, and if it hasn't cost lives already, I would be very very surprised. Anyway, you could never guarantee that your WAN IP would match up to the right location automatically. ISP X could move subnet Y to location Z on whim AA, and you'd never know until the next time you go to somewhere with an ad for a dating website.

  • by chrysrobyn ( 106763 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @11:11AM (#30310354)

    I wonder what bit rate we can push through the copper at most houses in rural America? My father-in-law's old house used to get very bad static on the line when it rained, but voice was still audible. Would this VOIP be capable of service, or does that house require new wiring? Anything requiring a lot of people to change the wires in their walls is going to face some serious problems. I bet new hardware in the field could get 64kbit or maybe 128kbit digital without much problem. If you're not worried about a computer talking on the line at the same time, that is way more than sufficient. Since the FCC solicitation seems to suggest they're using this as a way to force wider broadband deployment, 256kbit might be the minimum for a connection intended to share with a computer, although I'd hesitate to call that "broadband".

    I bet we could help with the reliability of VOIP by putting cheap NiMH batteries in each VOIP device (one per house, at the pedestal? or each device needs its own?). Enough capacity to last a few hours on standby and maybe 15 or 20 minutes of talk time would cover emergencies.

    I think it would be very interesting to be on a technical committee to write a new standard to cover bidirectional communication on low quality twisted pair. There would be interesting coupling challenges with using one wire for send and the other for receive, but using a current sense methodology on a differential signal has its own ugliness too. It would be cheating to take turns every 10-100ms using a training sequence, but there would be power and signal benefits to weigh against the increase in latency and cut in available bandwidth (and if each device gets its own CODEC, having more than 3 people on the phone may have ludicrous latencies).

  • by Cimexus ( 1355033 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @11:23AM (#30310516)

    It can also be run on copper without POTS (sometimes called "naked DSL"), but the Bells don't like that because it means letting people drop their landlines.

    You're right, and it's a terrible shame ... I went 'naked' a year ago and I love it (I live in Australia, telco regulations here have forced our equivalent of the US 'bells' to allow competitors to offer ULL, i.e. naked-DSL, links). Beats paying line rental on a phone line I made about 2 call on per year, and my ISP offers a high quality VoIP product for cheap calls worldwide. Love it :)

  • by Jarik C-Bol ( 894741 ) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @12:58PM (#30312244)
    you make a good point here. wire phones often work when everything else has collapsed into burning rubble. power can be out, cell towers down, and you can still pick up a corded handset and make a call. that level of reliability is just not matched in VoIP systems. In the area where i live, they transitioned a lot of rural customers over to a satellite relay for phone service (it had been microwave relays before that) what sucks is the satellite systems go down far more often than the old microwave system.
    I'm all for new tech, but wide scale implementation of it needs to be only after it is not going to be a downgrade in reliability.
  • by Chyeld ( 713439 ) <chyeld@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Thursday December 03, 2009 @01:24PM (#30312714)

    Except that in many places, you really are already on a VOIP network, you just have POTS on the last mile.

    Plus, this isn't a plan to force the networks to go to VOIP, they are already pushing for that on their own due to the lowered costs of running them. This is the "how do we let them do this without letting them screw the customer over by removing services or reducing quality of service" plan.

  • by Chyeld ( 713439 ) <chyeld@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Thursday December 03, 2009 @04:21PM (#30315484)

    The majority of many telco's backbones are already converted to packet switched (IP) networks vs circuit switched (POTS) networks. Packet switching has a huge cost saving vs circuit switching. And yes, it works with any sort of data that is already being sent over the lines. We aren't talking Skype or SIP here, we are talking lower level type of hardware/interfacing.

    What the real question is (the one the FCC is asking), what sort of measures should be taken to ensure that as the network goes full IP (and potentially to full VOIP) the quality of service isn't degraded. Do they need to demand a certain level of latency, lack of jitter, vocal quality (i.e. mandate a specific codec or bit rate).

    VOIP at the same level of quality as what we consider POTS to have is quite doable, the reason it isn't done is that part of the cost savings in VOIP is the 'doing more with less' mantra it's currently being implemented under by most people. But is it necessary to mandate that quality and if so, how?

    PS For specific information concerning your actual concern, you can start by reading this article [voip-info.org].

"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain