POTS are Going Away...Really, and Quickly
Is This For Real?
Such a boring but essential topic: Plain Old Telephone Service, or POTS for short. Very recently we have begun to see a trend in POTS line costs that are unprecedented. In some areas of California, costs for POTS have risen by 5x in the last 24+ months; in the Midwest, at least double; in the Northeast at least 50%. Something has to be done – the sheer price point alone will force an enterprise to reconsider POTS.
Why the necessity for POTS (traditionally)? POTS is very useful for any of the following applications:
- Fax machines
- Elevators (emergency phones)
- Remote access to your legacy PBX
- Failover for survivable remote sites leveraging UC
- Credit card machines
- Modems for remote access
- Lead number, circuits/lines used at SMB sites and smaller enterprise branch sites
- 911 access from a location
- Overflow/failover at most remote voice IP-enabled UC sites (corporate or branch sites)
And here is another interesting component: these types of services used for data DO NOT work well, in some cases if at all, over SIP trunks or other IP connections. In the legacy world of digital Communications, it was not difficult to use an analog extension at 56K and fax machines at 33K. When VoIP arrived, the cap for analog extensions went down to 19K. That started around 10+ years ago.
In many cases fax machines and modems find it difficult to communicate over SIP, and, in fact the T.38 fax protocol for SIP either works or doesn’t. An alternative is running fax machines at G.711 and sometimes that works, or deliver faxing over PRIs (another legacy carrier service beginning to go south). The same goes for modems and even more limiting.
With the skyrocketing interest for SIP trunking at the enterprise level (and now video over SIP) and the entire market of real time communications moving quickly to IP, it is only a matter of time when POTS will be “no more” for enterprise customers, a.k.a. “POTS ARE DEAD.”
“POTS ARE DEAD,” So What Can We Do?
As the market continues to move to IP (and quickly), there are several strategies you can employ that will provide for a migration. The most important thing is not to panic, but realize this IS a trend and planning for POTS “disintegration/elimination” is that it will happen and just a matter of when:
Consolidate POTS Lines Through an Aggregator – Inventory and consolidate POTS lines through an aggregator or local carrier. Contract for the POTS for 36 months (with an option for more). There are several benefits here:
- Eliminate Multiple POTS Bills – POTS line bill payment can be the scourge for any A/P department and the above will reduce the number of POTS invoices dramatically
- Ease of Billing (about 60-90% fewer POTS invoices) – Better aggregators will provide and help POTS detail and summaries allocated by department, by division
- Lower Costs – consolidating POTS can possibly lower costs per line depending on the vendor and their contract
- Eliminate Unnecessary POTS – An inventory will uncover and help eliminate POTS you no longer need
- Locked-In Rates – A 36-month (or longer) contract will help lock in rates and allow a way to budget for the upcoming budget cycles
(We performed such a project for a client and the results were significant – consolidated billing, fewer invoices, allocation, exceptionally lower costs and elimination of unnecessary POTS nationally.)Eliminate POTS on Credit Card Machines – Credit card approvals over POTS are slow and expensive. The more current design is IP connected through your network to the credit card provider. Note that credit card approvals MUST be PCI compliant so one must follow best practices for protecting customer data. Migrate Fax Machines to Fax Servers – Faxing to fax servers eliminates POTS lines and provides a way to convert faxes to TIF files attached to your email, and inclusive of a Unified Messaging solution (email, voice mail, fax in your e-mail inbox). “Help Is On Its Way” Via SIP – POTS will eventually be provided as a channel over SIP trunking, and in many cases, over the top of a SIP trunk also being delivered as Internet and PRIs.
Convert Alarms to an IP-Solution – Work with Your Alarm Company for conversion to an IP solution offered by them. Again, note diversity for SIP as required to protect your siteUse Mobility in Lieu of POTS – In the event of a POTS or power outage. Be sure to have location services are turned on in the event you use your mobile device for 911.
- In nearly all cases, we recommend a separate SIP trunk being delivered for POTS vs. “over the top” of an Internet pipe. The reason is simple – in the latter case, if you lose the Internet you lose all POTS as well (for data and voice). In my opinion, the cost of SIP trunks will plummet to replace POTS as the “new POTS.”
- Next-gen POTS over SIP will provide E911 location access via enhanced DID services from the provider, which carries the address information that needs to be relayed to the PSAP (make sure your provider can deliver on such). Services such as 911 ETC, Conveyant, RedSky, 911 Enable, Amcom, and Avaya Breeze can also be used for location-based services across a multi-site enterprise.
So POTS are going away, yes, and is yet another disruption in an all-IP world. We must embrace it and protect the base at the same time. The points in this post should provide a way of protecting you in the short term, as well as give us all enough time to explore alternatives, some of which are not even announced as yet. But doing nothing will eventually put your enterprise at risk, period.