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FCC Wants To Trial Shift From Analog Phone Networks To Digital

Soulskill posted about 2 months ago | from the but-will-they-support-my-rotary-phone?! dept.

Communications 218

An anonymous reader sends word that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has given the go-ahead for telecommunications companies to start experimenting with an IP-based telephone protocol. From the article: "The experiments approved by the FCC would not test the new technology - it is already being used - and would not determine law and policy regulating it, FCC staff said. The trials would seek to establish, among other things, how consumers welcome the change and how new technology performs in emergency situations, including in remote locations. 'What we're doing here is a big deal. This is an important moment,' FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. 'We today invite service providers to propose voluntary experiments for all-IP networks.' The move in part grants the application by AT&T to conduct IP transition tests as companies that offer landline phone services seek to ultimately replace their old copper wires with newer technology like fiber or wireless."

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218 comments

Huh? (2)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 months ago | (#46132139)

Aren't a lot of people already using digital phone service?
(at home we have phone service via Charter cable)

Re:Huh? IP already? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132201)

Of course! Anybody not using POTS is already VOIP. Of course, even POTS customers are VOIP if they call beyond their local exchange, probably.

On the plus side, if done right (HA!!) POTS would still be POTS but from the neighborhood Uverse/FIOS/etc box rather than from the central office - think many neighborhood exchanges rather than one or 2 per town. Or maybe each neighborhood on a phone co. PBX. The concept goes downhill from there ...

And if that works they can get rid of some central offices which are often on valuable real estate near the middle of town.

Re:Huh? (3, Informative)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 months ago | (#46132333)

Most people have been digital from the central office for over 20 years. Only the last mile has been analog for a rapidly shrinking fraction.

Re:Huh? (4, Informative)

stox (131684) | about 2 months ago | (#46132355)

Digital has been around a lot longer than that, T1's were introduced in 1962. This is changing from circuit switched to IP. Enabling the carriers to jam more call over less wires/fibers than before. This will, of course, increase profits, but not reduce your bill.

Re:Huh? (2, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 months ago | (#46132421)

Well yeah. I didn't get into the game until 1984. People have a strange aversion to change wrt telephony. By 1989 I had gone cellular and had way too many conversations like "no, what is your HOME phone number?". "My cellular phone IS my home phone. When I am home that is how you call me. When I'm not home, you can still call me. Now can I rent the movie?"

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132465)

Well yeah. I didn't get into the game until 1984. People have a strange aversion to change wrt telephony. By 1989 I had gone cellular and had way too many conversations like "no, what is your HOME phone number?". "My cellular phone IS my home phone. When I am home that is how you call me. When I'm not home, you can still call me. Now can I rent the movie?"

This shit still happens today! I've had people ask me for my "home" number. In 2013 (yeah, technically "last year"). I'm like "I don't bother with a home phone." and they seemed surprised.

Re:Huh? (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 months ago | (#46132523)

With how cheap phone plans can be now, I just have a spare cell phone that I leave at the house. I ported the number I have had since 1990 to it and use it for all of those people/companies that I would rather have leaving a message.

Re:Huh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132379)

Not even that. People are confusing the "switch to digital" which occurred sometime in the late 90's with this movement which is to convert to all-IP, so there's no more trunking and circuit-switching.

There's two major problems with this, but it will ultimately result in cost savings if the telephone networks can standardize on a VoIP protocol (oh wait, one exists doesn't it, but it's not Skype.) The first major problem is that POTS last mile and Cellphone's still dial "phone numbers" that assume circuit switching (which is why the numbers exist at all, that's how the old analog gear dealt with it, remember rotary dialing?) The second problem, which is also a cost savings, at least for the consumer if they don't already have it is the elimination of long-distance charges internationally for other end points that terminate over the internet.

Of course this requires switching to IPv6 as well. If we finally get FTTH everywhere out of this, then sign me up. But I doubt this is what will happen.

What will happen instead is the carriers will just switch out the Circuit switching points with VoIP relays and leave the last mile intact for everyone who isn't already paying for their VoIP digital telephone service. This is what already happens if you get your phone service from your cable company. They just add another DOCSIS 2.0 modem to your line and it sits there consuming power, and only operates when the power is out for about 30 minutes if the battery hasn't already died.

Re:Huh? (2)

Sique (173459) | about 2 months ago | (#46132825)

Of course this requires switching to IPv6 as well.

No, it doesn't. If we take SIP for instance, each provider has one or more internal private networks with the subscribers, and to the outside, they are known as <userid>@provider, or they have an ENUM which then maps to <userid>@provider. There is no need for IPv6, as you could easily fit 65000 calls on a single Session Border Controler with one public IP.

Re:Huh? (1)

segin (883667) | about 2 months ago | (#46132789)

But even though it's a digital system, it's logically circuit-switched. Part of this is to also move to the packet-switched domain.

Re:Huh? (4, Insightful)

fdrebin (846000) | about 2 months ago | (#46132625)

<rant>

The trend away from analog for the last mile is astonishingly stupid, but I suppose inevitable. Why do I say that? What happens when your power goes out and you have Charter-crap or Comcast-shite or UVerse-dung ? You're screwed. Got POTS? You've still got a landline as long as you have at least 1 PODF (Plain Old Dumb Phone)

I've had POTS service for going on 60 years with precisely 0 failures, ever. I also have and have had a variety of cell, wimax, voip & voip-like services, and even used to demo voip and billing thereof for the carriers. Terms such as "Reliable" and "Quality of Service" don't apply. (Well, 99.9% is great until there is an actual emergency)

</rant>

And for you young smart/dumb-asses who think I'm a cranky old fart (which I am) I also still make my living writing a variety of relatively smart software - networking, complex computation algorithms, 3D graphics, etc. So I ain't your grandma (though I might have curled her toes back in the day)

Re:Huh? (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 2 months ago | (#46132687)

When your battery goes flat, you do what people did for millions of years before there were telephones: You go outside and talk to a neighbours. Imagine that.

Re:Huh? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132863)

Doesn't help much to talk to the neighbor when your husband or wife or child needs emergency services (like, they are bleeding to death) and your all IP packet-switched phone system won't work because some "expert" miss-configured their edge router and took down the subnet you are on.

BIG Mistake, getting rid of POTS...

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46133139)

The good old argument to tradition. Fail!

Re:Huh? (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 months ago | (#46132743)

Meh, get a UPS.
That's exactly the way POTS works, banks of big batteries.

I keep my cable modem and router on the UPS. My cell phone, and my spare battery will carry me for about 3 or 4 days. If power is ever out longer than that I'll first up the generator, an charge the UPS and the phones again.

My cell phone does VoIP now, its called Internet Calling, and some carriers let you do that on cellular, others, only allow it on WiFi, but third party apps let you use VoIP regardless of the network.

If the FCC can force the carriers to allow this everywhere, it will be great. They can stop selling minutes, and just sell us data. That means world wide free long distance. Because once its on the net, they can't charge you any more for across town or across the globe.

Re:Huh? (3, Informative)

sjames (1099) | about 2 months ago | (#46132923)

The difference is that the phone company has a humongous UPS with a diesel backup maintained by professionals. Your grandma would likely get one from BestBuy and have no idea they have batteries that might fail without warning.

Your cellphone might carry you for 3 to 4 days, and your generator might go indefinitely, but how long will the cable network itself stay up? Remember, it was designed at a time where if the power was out, so was anything that might be connected to the cable. And that was fine since it was just TV, the phone was for emergencies and important news came from a transistor radio. I know in my area there is no UPS on any of the network hardware. If the power glitches the network goes down.

Re:Huh? (1)

Sique (173459) | about 2 months ago | (#46132851)

I've had POTS service for going on 60 years with precisely 0 failures, ever.

Then you are either very, very lucky, or you just never noticed the outages because you weren't calling or expecting a call during outages. Since my parents moved to their new home 15 years ago, they had a reliability of 99,85% on their landline. Why is that? Because there was a big flooding in their region, knocking out the local switch their landline was hooked up to. Shit happens also to POTS.

Re:Huh? (1)

sjames (1099) | about 2 months ago | (#46132857)

It seems like they should continue providing power on the line for whatever equipment may be connected. There's no reason they can't include a copper pair in a fiber run for emergency power.

Re:Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46133027)

Well, two issues here:

(1) The amount of current you receive from the central office over regular analog copper lines is just enough to provide dial tone and power the ringers of a few handsets in the house. The amount of current required to power the optical terminals and VoIP handsets greatly exceeds what has traditionally been provided to POTS users.

(2) Last-mile connectivity does not go back to the central office in this deployment model. It goes to remote terminals in the neighborhood that do have a small bank of batters but no generator. (Actually, this has been the case for POTS service too in a lot of places where the networks have been transformed and cost-reduced)

Re:Huh? (1)

ras (84108) | about 2 months ago | (#46133003)

What happens when your power goes out and you have Charter-crap or Comcast-shite or UVerse-dung ? You're screwed.

I don't know about Charter-crap or Comcast-shite, but here in Australia I can tell you what happens with a PODF. Initially batteries in the exchange power the PODF, and it's all good as you say. But if the outage is caused by a category 5 cyclone named say Yasi [wikipedia.org] then some of the exchanges will be isolated, so the next thing that happens is the batteries go flat. Not a huge problem as the diesel generator cuts in automatically. But then it runs out of fuel, and your PODF dies.

So what now? Well I can tell you what thousands of Aussie's effected by Yasi did. They used their mobiles. If the mobiles didn't work they hopped into the car and drove to somewhere that did. And if their mobiles went flat they charged them using the car. Turns out determined human with car and mobile beats PODF every time.

Here in Australia we are building something called the NBN [wikipedia.org]. Sort of like the FCC plan being described here, but we are skipping the trial step. (Well, not really. The NBN is better described as "re-writing the country", but exactly what that means is up for debate, however one thing is clear: POTS dies.) There used to be a huge debate about batteries, just like the one you are starting here. Yasi ended it.

It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Works (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132141)

My POTS line works great, works in power outages, and sounds way better than any other phone service I've had the misfortune of being exposed to. Of course the FCC wants to screw it up.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (2, Insightful)

profplump (309017) | about 2 months ago | (#46132219)

Really, because my POTS line goes down every couple of months, sometimes mis-routes calls, only supports in-band DTMF signaling, and often has lower quality audio than my VoIP line.

It's almost like the underlying signaling technology is not the sole determining factor in quality of service, and there are a number of ways to meet (or fail to meet) desired service goals. But I know that's a silly idea -- we know from history that older == more robust, just like older cars start better in cold weather and older flashlights need fewer batteries.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132251)

Exactly, just like we know new washing machines last longer than old ones. Oops.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132373)

I call bullshit. If POTS was to 'mis-route' a call, then things would catch fire.

only supports in-band DTMF signaling

No shit. I bet you blame auto manufacturers when you accidentally dump some diesel into your gas tank.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (2)

profplump (309017) | about 2 months ago | (#46132855)

I've experienced two different kinds of call mis-routing on POTS. The first is where my phone rings, but there are actually two other parties connected to the call, and no one can hear me. This is almost certainly a signaling failure at the electrical level, which doesn't have an equivalent failure mode under VoIP. (VoIP *has* failure modes related to electrical misconnection, but they don't cause the same error). To the best of my knowledge, no fire was related to this failure (certainly nothing at my end caught fire).

The other failure mode is almost certainly related to the in-band command signaling I was complaining about and you were defending, wherein the number I dial is not the endpoint to which I am connected. I don't mean "I misdialed" or even "the computer at the remote end of my call failed to decode my in-call DTMF signaling" I mean "my auto-dialer sent DTMF and I got connected to a different number than the one represented by the tones I played on the line".

And the failure of DTMF in-call is also in issue with POTS, whether you believe it or not. I agree, it's not something POTS was designed to deal with, but it is something that is actually used in the real world that POTS does not handle cleanly and has no capability to improve its reliability. If you want to convince end users around the world that they should not require the use of DTMF signaling because it's unreliable over POTS be my guest, but arguing that it's not useful just because POTS wasn't designed for it is like arguing that electricity is not useful just because steam locomotives were not designed for it.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132279)

It works this well because it is /mandated/ that the resources required to /make it reliable/ are /spent/ to make it so.

If wireless networks were provisioned with the battery backup/generators necessary and the redundancy of overlapping coverage to account for faults in towers (or some random drunk plowing in to one) then they too would be this 'reliable' (though the software in the stack would be in question; having multiple brands/models of phones would help).

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (2)

mysidia (191772) | about 2 months ago | (#46132457)

It works this well because it is /mandated/ that the resources required to /make it reliable/ are /spent/ to make it so.

The commission report states their standard of reliability...They are holding the new technology to a lower standard of reliability.

24 hours of backup power after a power outage

During winter storms and other similar events; I have experienced 3 to 5 day outages on occasion: POTS lines never went down, so emergency calls could still be made, even when there was no cell service...

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 months ago | (#46132557)

The whole power outage thing has always seemed like a red herring. If the power goes out, my phone is going to get a couple of hours worth of calling before it dies. It will sit for two days ready to go if I am not making calls. If all that fails, I can go start my car and charge it there and that is only if I don't have a back up battery for my phone.

On the other hand, if a branch falls on the phone line, there is no phone. Plus, power and phone are generally put on the same poles, so if a pole goes down, you lose it all anyway.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (2)

sjames (1099) | about 2 months ago | (#46132941)

The cell tower your phone talks to will last 24 hours at best. After that, it doesn't matter if your cellphone is charged. I have seen a few multi-day power outages but the phone has always worked.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (2)

David_Hart (1184661) | about 2 months ago | (#46132283)

My POTS line works great, works in power outages, and sounds way better than any other phone service I've had the misfortune of being exposed to. Of course the FCC wants to screw it up.

I was home for the holidays over Christmas and the power went out at my parents place during an ice storm. The battery backup for the IP phone started beeping. They asked what it was for and I had to explain to them that they had signed up for VoIP service and that it needed power to the internet router to keep the phones working. The battery lasted about 8 hours.

So, while VoIP works quite well, POTS has the advantage of pretty much always having a dial tone, even when the power is out.

If they do decide to get rid of analog lines and go to VoIP, then they are going to have to figure out how to keep it powered. Of course, POE has been around for a long while. I'm guessing, though, that the phone companies can't just hook up the VoIP phones to the analog battery banks due to differences in power requirements.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 months ago | (#46132339)

This is great if a transformer blows. For many people their pstn wire is on the same poles as their power and if the lines are down, the lines are down.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (2)

mysidia (191772) | about 2 months ago | (#46132491)

This is great if a transformer blows. For many people their pstn wire is on the same poles as their power and if the lines are down, the lines are down.

That is possible, but usually what happens is the electricity gets switched off due to a fault / short-circuit, or transformer blowing... like you said.

One fault in the electrical system, and the circuit breakers gets thrown on a very large number of people.

Your telephone line is a private circuit. Chances are, if someone's phone line got a short circuit -- the other circuits are intact -- it's not everybody elses.

Also... often the telephone cabling may be completely underground; all the way from the served location to the central office. Whereas, the electrical transmission need be overhead.

The distribution networks look entirely different, so there is a fair chance your phone line might not be near your power line much of the way.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (2)

mysidia (191772) | about 2 months ago | (#46132477)

though, that the phone companies can't just hook up the VoIP phones to the analog battery banks due to differences in power requirements.

During an extended outage; I can power the bloody VoIP devices myself, via a local generator. MY concern is, that even if I power up the VoIP phone, and all my on-premises equipment, the network link will be dead, because the phone company's nearest repeater's battery has died --- I.E. the remote unit somewhere in their infrastructure that lights up a fiber, and converts it to Ethernet over copper, before feeding it into my building.

I am content if the FCC just requires them to provide continuous power up to the consumer household; with a minimum of 72 hours of onsite backup power for any network elements such as remote pedestals -- to be replenished prior to exhaustion, and a hookup for the homeowner to provide a battery and additional sources of emergency power at their location ---- such as a solar panel and charge controller to help charge the battery, when power is down for an extended period.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

antdude (79039) | about 2 months ago | (#46132329)

And phone companies want to dump the copper wires! They won't even give me fiber for FIOS. :(

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132353)

I have a POTS line I use for DSL. I do not get DSL service from AT&T because I have a static IP and run my own servers. So the only way to get third-party DSL is by keeping a POTS line alive. It is nice to have a backup though. That's not to say my POTS line survives power outages. The StarMux I'm on is close to my house and if it looses power the batteries only last so long.

But: If they turn off the copper will I be forced to use AT&T DSL? I won't subscribe to it. They block port 25 and I still run my own mail server at home and will continue to do so. I don't know what other options I would have. The FCC needs to do a better job of not letting these companies just walk all over people. Fine if you want to take down my copper. But give me a sensible alternative that isn't just mean for another content consumer. I don't care if I can stream video (my current DSL is too slow to do this). I don't care about TV at all (don't ever watch it). But I want to SSH into my servers at home when I am out on the job. This seems to be a very difficult thing to get.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

xyzzymage (3415857) | about 2 months ago | (#46132753)

The users at DSLReports Forum [dslreports.com] or your ISP's subforum there should know. (If not, staff in my ISP's subforum [dslreports.com] will.) If U-verse is the brand name for AT&T's digital package, it might be useful to read the answer my ISP's COOgave when somebody asked recently whether we can get DSLthrough a third-party ISP when our area is upgraded to U-verse. [dslreports.com]

I feel the same way you do regarding ISPs, except maybe a bit more extreme, as I don't want to use the phone *or* cable companies. Ifind it worth the speed sacrifice of sticking with 6Mbps/768k to have an old-school ISP that allows servers (even on port 25), includes Usenet access, doesn't cap data or speed-throttle, and so forth.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

Belial6 (794905) | about 2 months ago | (#46132535)

My cell phone works when the power goes out too. Not only that, it also works when someone plows into a telephone pole, tearing the phone cables free from the line.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

lxs (131946) | about 2 months ago | (#46132563)

My POTS line went dead one day, and while waiting on hold for over thirty minutes on my cellphone trying to reach the phone company I signed up for VOIP from my ISP (ADSL over the same wire still worked fine). I would claim that I switched out of spite but it was really out of boredom waiting for tech support.

Re:It's Like The Last Piece Of Technology That Wor (1)

icebike (68054) | about 2 months ago | (#46132751)

My POTS line works great, works in power outages, and sounds way better than any other phone service I've had the misfortune of being exposed to. Of course the FCC wants to screw it up.

You think POTS sounds good, wait till you hear VoIP.

unrelated. PoE = power on a digital line (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 2 months ago | (#46132875)

That's unrelated to analog vs digital or circuit vs packet. The phone company can put power on a digital line just as easily as they can put power on an analog line

Want to know why this is happening? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46133043)

I work in telecom and I have a reasonably clear picture of telecom trends.

Subscriptions to traditional POTS service is on a steady and steep downward trend. People are ditching their landlines in favor of cell phones to save money (you have your cell phone with you all the time, and it's fairly cheap, so why pay for two services when one will do?). To a lesser extent, cable company phone service, Skype, and etc. are also driving this.

There is a lot of fixed cost associated with managing POTS service that doesn't scale down when subscribers go away. With hardly anyone using POTS, it becomes a question of how to cost-effectively provide phone service to a rapidly dwindling user base.

Sure, some of this is just cynical cost cutting (i.e appeasing shareholders), but much of it is just intelligently responding to evolving usage trends. The 40+ year old POTS network is going to change.

What about surveillence? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132147)

I'm not at all saying that the FCC is pushing towards surveillance with this, but I question whether or not this makes it easier, more difficult, or the same. I'm under the impression that it would become easier to spy on the content of calls (the so called "metadata" wouldn't see any change, of course).

Re:What about surveillence? (1)

jlb.think (1719718) | about 2 months ago | (#46132275)

It may or may not make it easier for current mass surveillance technology, but it will make it easier for us to use telephones with encryption built in. I would love to see basic telephones with opportunistic encryption built in and the option for me to use my own set of keys when I don't think that's enough.

No change (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132997)

This article is describing how phone service is ultimately delivered to the user. Calls are still routed across the network like they were before.

The NSA has co-location presence at international phone exchanges (i.e. the infamous Folsom Street central office that Mark Klein spilled the beans on NSA's spying) and phone providers are still required to maintain the same call detail records for law enforcement that they have before. So this doesn't help or hinder the NSA.

Coming to a "landline" near you... (5, Insightful)

LookIntoTheFuture (3480731) | about 2 months ago | (#46132153)

More delays that make conversations frustrating! Woohoo!

Re:Coming to a "landline" near you... (4, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | about 2 months ago | (#46132193)

I'm alllllllll!@#>#@$ using Slashd |!@#!$%>>,,,,,,,,, over IP

It's totally rad!@#XCCVZ...........

NO CARRIER

Re:Coming to a "landline" near you... (3, Informative)

deconfliction (3458895) | about 2 months ago | (#46132589)

Yup, more latency as you mentioned, and also likely to accompany it- worse audio quality as more calls are put through the same amount of bandwidth. Ain't progress grand? 30 years ago when I was a child, you could flip cable channels with maybe 0.25s latency for the picture to stabalize, now you can stare at a black screen for a few seconds. (not that my ability to waste my life channel surfing is defensible, but it's the same basic issue. And yes, DVR features do outweigh the degradation of channel change latency, but again, I'm just highlighting that tradeoffs are being made, and it isn't always a net win on user experience)

The real motive (4, Insightful)

stox (131684) | about 2 months ago | (#46132157)

AT&T and Verizon are pushing this. Why? Digital services aren't currently unregulated. Digital services are non-unionized. Digital services don't currently require universal service. Digital services are not required to be repaired in a timely basis. Unless the FCC declares digital services to be common carriers instead of information providers, we are going to get screwed and hard!

Re:The real motive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132247)

No unions? Sign me up!

Re:The real motive (1)

imthesponge (621107) | about 2 months ago | (#46132387)

The man on the radio told me that unions are worse than Hitler.

Worse than Hitler but at what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132449)

While that is entirely possible, you must consider what they could be worse AT.
For example, with so many people in a union, it is entirely likely that the majority of the members are far worse at painting than Hitler. A select few may be much greater than Hitler was, however. Some may be much worse public speakers than Hitler, but, again, it's possible perhaps one of them somewhere has more charisma.

I, for one, have no clue whether or not Hitler was good at figure-skating, but I can guarantee that Unions, in the general reference to the majority of their members, would be much better than Hitler at Snowboarding.

Re:The real motive (2)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 2 months ago | (#46132395)

AT&T and Verizon are pushing this. Why? Digital services aren't currently regulated. Digital services are non-unionized. Digital services don't currently require universal service. Digital services are not required to be repaired in a timely basis. Unless the FCC declares digital services to be common carriers instead of information providers, we are going to get screwed and hard!

In addition, my understanding is that while a customer can opt to get phone service from an alternate provider over POTS - meaning it's Verizon's copper, but you get your service from [not-Verizon] - a customer is not allowed this option using fiber - a concession granted to the telcos for running their new, expensive fiber.

Re:The real motive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132995)

This. The technical arguments are interesting and correct. The only POTS downtime I ever had was when a drunk wiped out the neighborhood connection frame one nite (phone down for almost a month; DSL down for another week or so and never really worked right afterward; the wires are underground but the boxes aren't). But This.

By moving to all-digital, there is no more competition, even a little bit. POTS providers had to make space available (at a price) for other phone and, especially, DSL providers/ISPs. Not with digital. In my area, it's Uverse or Comcast. Period, unless you want to go with fly-by-nite mesh or 4G. Back to "We're the phone company. We don't have to care. Oh yes, and there's an extra service fee for that."

This FCC action just kills alternate (not part of the carrier) ISPs for anybody who isn't big enough to justify a full-on business connection to the Internet and be their own ISP. What do we pay a regulatory fee for (on our bills) if there's no regulation?

Hate it (1)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 2 months ago | (#46132159)

Switched to VOIP at work. Immediately I lost the cues I use in lieu of body language, and cutting into a conversation went from a graceful maneuver to a bludgeoning due to a tiny extra delay.
Was this a poor implementation, or par for the course? Can we expect better clarity from VoIP or more muffled sounds as I heard? Loss of dynamic range, audio compression, transmission, and some form of noise gate or raised floor made me half as effective as I should have been, and I worked remotely so I needed that edge I lost.
Are things different now?

Re:Hate it (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 2 months ago | (#46132233)

Hate to break it to you, but most phone call trunking is VoIP already. I also guess that you don't never made an overseas call, own a cell phone, or used a two way radio.

Re:Hate it (1)

fdrebin (846000) | about 2 months ago | (#46132653)

Hate to break it to you, but most phone call trunking is VoIP already.

Yes, but not precisely. The trunks are not the same VOIP that you get when you use your MagicJack or Skype (Skype works pretty well for me actually). You essentially have a digital SVC (Switched Virtual Circuit) that is indeed digitized and compressed, sliced, diced etc. but the more-or-less dedicated bandwidth is 64k. Your cell phone connection is 3k-8k at best. And latency is indeed lower because AT&T set that stuff up back in the days when they actually cared.
Disclaimer: I used to work for carriers on the backend systems, so I had to take classes on all this, but it's been 10+ years since then and this wasn't my area of expertise. So I could have details wrong but the gist of it is correct.

Re:Hate it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132249)

When VOIP was first being rolled out about 18 years ago, my initial reaction was to focus on the audio quality we were losing, rather than the exciting new digital services that were being pitched. In retrospect, though, POTS was scaleable but only for the pre-Internet, pre-mobile phone, pre-globalized society. It no longer scales to set up a dedicated path for each telephone conversation. That's like each executive in an office having a secretary to answer the phone and type the memos... it was a nice arrangement for a bygone era.

Re:Hate it (2)

Animats (122034) | about 2 months ago | (#46132309)

Are things different now?

No, VOIP still sucks. Cellular sucks. Cellular plus VOIP really sucks. Lags as high as 1 second.

Telephony has gone from "You can hear a pin drop" to "Can you hear me now?".

Re:Hate it (1)

Foresto (127767) | about 2 months ago | (#46132655)

No, VOIP still sucks. Cellular sucks. Cellular plus VOIP really sucks.

Eh. POTS worked okay for me most of the time, except when wet weather made call quality worse than normal. VoIP works well for me most of the time, except when a bad route makes call quality worse than normal. At least VoIP gives me more alternatives with which to work around a problem, and is a hell of a lot cheaper. I look forward to the day when better codecs (on both VoIP and cellular) and encryption raise the "normal" bar, for basically no cost.

bandwidth settings make a huge difference, use LOW (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 2 months ago | (#46132947)

If you set the VoIP to low bandwidth requirements (sometimes erroneously marked as low quality), it'll be almost exactly like a POTS line -low latency and low fidelity. If you use a high bandwidth setting, you'll get high fidelity, but more short drop outs and latency. Personally, I much prefer the low bandwidth setting.

Similarly you can choose different codecs. This is voice , not music, so you don't want hi-fi. A restricted frequency range actually makes voice much MORE intelligible because 95% of the intelligibility is in a narrow frequency range. The high and low frequencies are where the unwanted noise is.

Re:Hate it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46133009)

Sounds like a shitty implementation and/or a shitty provider.

I have several offices who have been using a SIP trunking provider for nearly a decade now. Specifically, our PBX speaks SIP to our provider, and our office uses SIP phones to the PBX. It's indistinguishable from the old Nortel PBX we used to have that was serviced by PRI lines prior to our upgrade to VoIP (only that it is cheaper for us to operate).

Great ... (1, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about 2 months ago | (#46132165)

Just what the phone company needs to charge us even more money ... a new-fangled phone system.

And, of course, while they're robbing us blind for something which should already be cheap and ubiquitous (but now newly gets to be the new expensive hotness), Big Brother should have an even easier time tracking everybody.

Why the fuck does the future always have to seem like bleak-cyberpunk?

Because there is no way we don't end up spending twice as much for essentially the same service.

Which will be great for the big telcos (which are oddly now all the cable companies who keep merging so there's no actual competition). For the rest of us, not so much.

And, if it's good for big business, you can bet the FCC will approve it -- because that's what they're paid to do.

And, of course, the marketing weenies will call it "HD-Phone", or "Phone 3.0", or some equal bullshit.

needs a law saying no forced rent fees or per phon (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 months ago | (#46132173)

needs a law saying no forced rent fees / must buy our hardware only from us or per phone outlet fees

NO. They Want To Change From Switched to IP (0)

snookerdoodle (123851) | about 2 months ago | (#46132197)

I don't think there have been any analog phone networks in any developed countries for many years. Nice Reuters. You should know better.

I believe they mean to change from a switched [wikipedia.org] (digital) telephone network to an IP network. The telephones in your office are probably IP phones.

Re:NO. They Want To Change From Switched to IP (1)

snookerdoodle (123851) | about 2 months ago | (#46132217)

Meant to add: It *may* let them get of the A/D D/A business, pushing digital into the home. I.e.: While the network itself is digital, it's analog to your house.

OTOH, they may still leave this leg analog, but I can't imagine why. Vonage et al certainly do IP/DSL for you.

Re:NO. They Want To Change From Switched to IP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132369)

How do you plan to get the bits to the home without the analog wire? Dial-up is still the only option for a vast number of places in the US. I'm on dial-up. It sucks but it's what I can get.

Re:NO. They Want To Change From Switched to IP (1)

stox (131684) | about 2 months ago | (#46132371)

This has been coming for 30 years, can you say ISDN?

Re:NO. They Want To Change From Switched to IP (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 months ago | (#46132499)

Aside from the last mile, the phone network went cell swiched long, long ago. Cell switched, not packet switched - lower latency that way. Things like ATM and ATM-over-SONET. Not an IP address in sight.

Re:NO. They Want To Change From Switched to IP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132637)

Aside from the last mile, the phone network went cell swiched long, long ago. Cell switched, not packet switched - lower latency that way. Things like ATM and ATM-over-SONET. Not an IP address in sight.

Thank you! I see so many people here talking about how the PSTN core has gone IP. Very few SS7 links are now SIGTRAN (SS7 over IP) and typically that IP goes over ATM. But even that is rare. Most phone calls in the USA today transit ATM works (over SONET) without TCP/IP being involved.

Been happening for decades already (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about 2 months ago | (#46132223)

In North America almost all trunking is VoIP already.

Re:Been happening for decades already (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132255)

Exactly! The last mile is TDM for a lot of folks, based on MSANs, BLCs, etc. But the core? It's NGN with SIP trunking and VoIP (SIP) in the Class 4/5.

Re:Been happening for decades already (2)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 months ago | (#46132363)

Old geezer confession... When things got really rough back in the day I used to take a break and sit in the dark switching closet and listen to the electromechanical relays go clickey-clack. Here a call, there a call, imagining the vast global web of conversations. Some would spark and the blue-green lights were a beautiful visual In the darkness, the transformer a barely audible bass hum.

Re:Been happening for decades already (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132401)

Some would spark and the blue-green lights were a beautiful visual In the darkness, the transformer a barely audible bass hum.

I never remember rectifiers (transformer + rectifier + cap box) being near the switching gear. Usually the switch rooms were 100% -48Vdc. Negative (below earth ground) to reduce corrosion on the copper infrastructure.

Re:Been happening for decades already (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 months ago | (#46132453)

The transformer may have been for something else. I recall the switching was powered from the CO. It was an Army base, and a long time ago. It was dark and cool, the basement of an old brick building not far from where I am now. The building is still there, but I don't go on the base any more.

Re:Been happening for decades already (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132527)

The transformer may have been for something else. I recall the switching was powered from the CO. It was an Army base

Military switch gear may be different than the PSTN. Different goals and all that.

Re:Been happening for decades already (2)

fdrebin (846000) | about 2 months ago | (#46132667)

Remember party lines? We got one once, by accident. Very entertaining (!). (1960's)
Phone calls to my grandparents, even in the 60's: Call their neighbors, who had an actual phone, ask them to go get grandma, call back in 1/2 an hour (This was KY, neighbors weren't that close, physically). The neighbors and my grandparents were friendly, all right - 3 pairs of their kids married each other (one of them being my mother)

Re:Been happening for decades already (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 months ago | (#46132821)

Yes, I do remember party lines, and grandma waiting up to see if there was news. It was like she had some addiction to new information. Gosh, it's nice we don't have that problem now.

Confessions Of an Ex-SLASHDOT BETA user (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#46132319)

Day 1: It wouldnâ(TM)t stop, the redirecting. At first I thought it was malware. Had my first drink in a long time.

Day 2: Barely had the strength to carry on as the BETA REDIRECTIONS continue.. trying not to talk to hallucinations at the bar and in the bathroom which laugh at me about these redirections.

Day 3: Discovered the BETA redirections were random, and while at first they looked somewhat usable, when I looked at me and my monitor screen in the mirror, a horrible woman with flesh hanging off of her body looked back, trying to lead me into a dance as the word BETA appeared across her rancid breasts.

Day 4: These BETA corridors go on FOREVER! On the plus side, Iâ(TM)ve taken up disassembling vehicles to corner this BETA beast and sacrifice myself rather than lead others to discovering it. I ate some red snow.

Day 5: Finding it harder to concentrate. Iâ(TM)ve ate some more of the red snow. The taste is starting to grow on me.

Day 6: This typewriter is the only entertainment I have, apart from throwing things at the walls, trying to get some response from the BETA which is now taking over my mind.

Day 7: Hahahahahha! Would you believe it? Iâ(TM)M STILL BEING REDIRECTED TO SLASHDOT BETA PAGES! AHAHhahahaah! Type, type, ding, ding! Wooo!

Day 8: The hallucinations are actually real! Would you believe it? They have offered to help me if I agree to work for them. Iâ(TM)m thinking about patenting this delicious red snow, the taste is unreal!

Day 9: Having black out sessions where I cannot remember large passings of time. Found some makeup, thought Iâ(TM)d paint a joker smile on my face to amuse the people only I can see!

Day 10: Productive today, part of what I wrote for my new screenplay:

I cannot opt out of Slashdot BETA!
I cannot opt out of Slashdot BETA!
I cannot opt out of Slashdot BETA!
I cannot opt out of Slashdot BETA!
I cannot opt out of Slashdot BETA!
I cannot opt out of Slashdot BETA!
I cannot opt out of Slashdot BETA!
I cannot opt out of Slashdot BETA!
I cannot opt out of Slas

(drops of blood on paper)

There is (probably) no analog phone network anymor (5, Informative)

Casandro (751346) | about 2 months ago | (#46132323)

Analogue telephone networks were phased out starting in the 1980s when digital transmission lines became affordable.

The only part where you still can get an "analogue line" is the last mile. However even there the first thing that gets done is a conversion to digital.

What the FCC is talking about is turning traditional digital TDM networks to VoIP networks. This has nothing to do with analogue or digital. With the proper adapters you can connect your dial phone to both, and your phone company can still charge you extra for touch dialling.

Re:There is (probably) no analog phone network any (1)

LeonPierre (305002) | about 2 months ago | (#46132649)

Yep. And to make matters worse, a VoIP network is not capable of delivering the same services that a TDM network can.

Devices using sensitive timing of dtmf signals such as fire alarms and other communication devices, as well as devices such as fax machines and modems do not operate well over VoIP networks.

There are a tons of devices like these out there and if they cannot operate reliably over a VoIP based network then they will either have to be replaced or migrated to either cellular or IP based communication methods.

VoIP is great for voice, but voice isn't the only thing that the telephone system is being used for. The industries that are relying on the "quality" of a TDM based telephone phone will soon have a lot of upgrading to do.

Re:There is (probably) no analog phone network any (1)

Casandro (751346) | about 2 months ago | (#46132725)

Yes, those are some of the unsolved problems with it.

However we are talking about the US telephone network. It's not particularly well known for quality anyhow.

fax / modems work fine if you set their speed (3, Informative)

raymorris (2726007) | about 2 months ago | (#46132921)

Modems and fax work fine over VoIP if you set their speed (bandwidth) lower than the bandwidth setting of the voip. If you set the voip channel to 48Kbps and set the fax to 56Kps that doesn't work well - you're trying to 56K of data through a 48K channel.

Instead, set the VoIP to 64 and the fax to 34. 34K through a 64K channel works fine.

Re:There is (probably) no analog phone network any (1)

ras (84108) | about 2 months ago | (#46133047)

There are a tons of devices like these out there and if they cannot operate reliably over a VoIP based network

True. Theses devices are modems, and they power things like fax'es and EFTPOS terminals.

You know what? Modems are what we use to send digital over an analogue line. They don't work over some VOIP, but ye gods if you are kludging a digital line over VOIP emulating a analogue signal over a digital signal which is sent using an analogue PYH using a high speed modem - maybe it is time for a layer or two to die.

In other words, complaining that about VOIP making life difficult for modems is like a teamster complaining how the hard the asphalt is on the horse's hooves.

If the FCC wants to pull this shit... (4, Insightful)

FuzzNugget (2840687) | about 2 months ago | (#46132351)

They DAMN well better make digital service providers common carriers and subject them to all the same regulations as PSTN.

Otherwise, we are truly fucked.

Sing-along (1)

aviators99 (895782) | about 2 months ago | (#46132361)

If I can't sing along with my friends on a phone call the connection is too laggy and the delay is going to adversely affect my conversation. I fear that this news will lead to the end of my sing-alongs, which means awkward, interruption-filled conversations (as mentioned by others).

Re:Sing-along (1)

umdesch4 (3036737) | about 2 months ago | (#46132485)

Funny, I was going to mention this. I remember in the early 80s, holding the phone up to the speakers and sharing the latest drum pattern I'd programmed into the TR-808, or whatever. No chance in hell you could do that now. Now, I get on conference calls to do system change deployments in the middle of the night, and the guy with his radio or TV on in the background just ends up flooding the whole call with this horrible undercurrent of digital burbling. If it weren't for the insane level of compression, that would just be a bit of background music, and wouldn't matter. Compression on phones these days has made it so that I can no longer understand ANYONE speaking English as a second language to me. I never used to have that problem, and I don't have it IRL either.

Digital last mile without power? (1)

HockeyPuck (141947) | about 2 months ago | (#46132381)

Currently with POTS the phone company provides power to the line entering your home.

Is there a way that you can provide VOIP or other digital means without having to power a home device locally?

A few years ago we had a massive ice storm in MA and we had no power for 3 days. My "emergency" $10 phone from walmart worked like a champ.

I supported ISDN back in the 90s... while I know that ATT/Verizon aren't considering ISDN, the thought of troubleshooting premises equipment again gives me chills.

GREAT... They're messing up again. (2)

arfonrg (81735) | about 2 months ago | (#46132409)

POTS is simple and much more resilient than VOIP so, let's get rid of it. VOIP is a MESS, way to go FCC!

Level up the telemarketers (1)

Sertis (2789687) | about 2 months ago | (#46132771)

So does this mean that telemarketers will no longer be limited by the number of voice trunks they or their voip provider have access to? Anyone with a cable modem can automate calls to thousands of physical phones per second with the right protocols in place? Sign me up!

They want to get out of their current regulations (1)

detain (687995) | about 2 months ago | (#46132935)

My understanding of this is that there are many government imposed limitations on the phone companies that benefit the average person, and if we switch to digital the TELCOs will no longer be bound to those regulations and will be free to become our new overlords.

Will my Fax and Caller ID work? (1)

cpufrier37075 (850555) | about 2 months ago | (#46133073)

In a fit of pique at Comcast bricking my Motorola modem I signed up for ATT Uverse including digital voice. Overall I've been pleased with the speed and reliability of the internet and can't say I've noticed much decreased call quality but now none of my fax equipment works and caller ID is hit and miss. Not that fax is a big deal, scan and email is much better, but some institutions require that I accept a fax. I really miss the caller ID. Both are known issues ATT seems to have no interest in fixing. maybe if everyone was last mile digital folks would finally stop faxing, or less likely, the telcos would fix it. Up time has been as reliable as POTS, much better than Comcast whose "qualified technicians" were always in need.
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