R. I. P. POTS

Was reading one of the latest reports about the slow, agonizing, death of POTS – plain old telephone service, a.k.a. wireline.

Having spent all of my adult life writing about POTS – I was even at the unveiling of the world’ first electronic telephone switch – it’s fascinating to watch VoIP and wireless, sometimes together, replace one of the technologies that has been central to the development of the world as we know it today.

The reports I saw indicate that AT&T lost 10.5% of its wireline connections in the third quarter of 2011, compared to the total it had a year ago. Verizon was down 7.6%. CenturyLink (remember Qwest?) is off by 6.8%.

Meanwhile VoIP numbers are up, although indications are that cable TV companies who offer VoIP aren’t growing that user base, nor have they convinced most of their subscribers to convert to their VoIP offering. Comcast, for instance, has more than 9 million VoIP subscribers, which is less than 18% of the homes that get its cable TV. Charter, another big cable player, reports 16.3% VoIP penetration, up barely a hair from 16% a year ago.

So basically that leaves three places all those POTS users have fled to – wireless only, VoIP from traditional phone companies (which while growing is still a trivial amount of their business), and VoIP from the new generation of VoIP specialists, such as Phone.com. And the sweet spot, its quickly becoming evident, is the small business enterprise, SOHO, and sophisticated home user – exactly the three areas that Phone.com has tailored its service for.

Interestingly, while numbers remain elusive as to how many mobile users now have VoIP on their smartphones, that number  by all accounts is increasing exponentially as more and more people move to smart phones and become comfortable with what they can. That means an inevitable proliferation of offerings such as Phone.com’s Mobile Office and iPhone VoIP application, and similar software from many competitors in the market targeting business VoIP.

Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.