The Rumors of the Death of the PSTN Are NOT Greatly Exaggerated

Is the Demise of the PSTN Finally at Hand?

Sharp scissors in hand, traditional phone providers are more than eager to cut the telephone cord of the old PSTN system.

The PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) is the infrastructure behind the nationwide phone service that runs off of phone wires and telephone poles. The Technical Advisory Council estimates that only 6% of Americans will use the PSTN by 2018.

As Internet telephone service (VoIP) and cellular service continue to dominate the market, fewer and fewer customers are using the PSTN as it is, and so some hope that the PSTN may even be disabled before the 2018 “death date.”

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is the technology that transfers voice, video, and faxes as digital data packets over the Internet, instead of as analog data packets over copper landlines. It’s much cheaper to send phone calls using the Internet, which results in lower monthly phone bills for customers. VoIP providers offer residential VoIP solutions, as well as Virtual PBX and SIP Trunking business solutions. Ultimately, it is beneficial for both customers and providers that all systems will be converted to VoIP.

Even the Big Guys Want the PSTN Closed for Business

The major telecoms in the country are eager for the end of the PSTN. Recently, AT&T sent a petition to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to swiftly retire the PSTN and move to a nationwide IP infrastructure. AT&T stated in their petition, “there is no reason to delay a transition that will bring massive benefits to American consumers.”

There are several reasons why major telecoms are eager for the demise of the PSTN:

  • Landline technology is expensive to maintain. Companies have to worry about the wear and tear of physical wires and wooden telephone poles.
  • These major telecoms are responsible for maintaining service in the more remote rural areas of the country, per FCC regulations. It can be expensive to maintain landlines just for these rural customers.
  • Because of the way telecoms are regulated by the FCC, analog providers have to pay lots of extra fees and taxes to support the PSTN nationally. If the PSTN were dismantled, these fees would presumably disappear.
  • Some may have expected traditional providers to resist the shutdown of the PSTN, but really it would be cheaper for the bigger telecoms to convert most of their own customers to VoIP and cellular systems.

What Does the End of the PSTN Mean for VoIP?

What does the death of the PSTN mean for VoIP users? Well, it certainly narrows the playing field to cellular and VoIP only, which will affect prices, regulations, and the network range:

VoIP will become the standard, which means there may be increased competition among providers, which could result in better prices for customers.

Right now, providers and analysts are debating whether or not the FCC should start regulating VoIP as a telecom or information service (like the Internet). When the FCC comes to a decision on this question, and when the PSTN is officially disabled, VoIP regulation may look very different than it does now. This means that VoIP providers will be subject to many of the same controls and protocols that affect traditional telecoms. However, many of these are in favor of the customer, as they include such controls as protection against discrimination, and equal and fair use policies between providers.

There may be renewed interest in improved public Internet services. After all, VoIP is reliant on Internet service, and not all Americans currently have easy Internet access. The first step is to help all Americans get an Internet connection so they are not liable to be without phone service. Secondly, we can start moving towards improved public Internet connectivity services through better cellular networks and improved public WiFi technologies.

Will the sight of telephone poles and birds mingling on the telephone wires soon be a thing of the past in the next 5 years? 10 years? Time will tell. However, a few things are certain: the PSTN is dying, VoIP service is expanding, and birds still haven’t learned how to swing on a VoIP Internet signal.

Rachel Greenberg writes for VoIP Review about residential and business VoIP solutions.


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