Predicting POTS’ Path

In my daily wanderings around the Internet I just read a little opinion piece by a young journalist in which he predicted that “plain old telephone service,” or POTS for short, isn’t going to go away any time soon. POTS is, of course, the old switched phone network which VoIP service is rapidly replacing for both business and residential use.

Intrigued by the headline, I read on, and soon discovered that the guy was basing his theory in part on the fact that he had been using a cell phone as his only means of communications. For him POTS was a new discovery! He went on to rave about its stability and security in comparison to wireless communications.

VoIP did get a mention … but just barely. No notice that the U.S. Army, as I’ve recently written, is busily switching over to VoIP. Indeed, gone are the days that any high school hacker could listen in on their neighbor’s VoIP conversations if they were both on the same cable television broadband loop. The new rival technologies used by traditional cable and phone companies are, for the record, secure. At least the U.S. Army thinks so, and who am I to argue with the U.S. Army?

And of course if the security is good enough for the government, I dare say it’s more than good enough for small business VoIP users. For enterprise VoIP users too.

Also getting short shrift is a discussion of the fact that, for the large majority of small office – home office (SOHO), small business, and residential VoIP users the infrastructure to deliver the broadband for VoIP is the precise same infrastructure used to deliver POTS (or, in the case of cable subscribers, the same as used to deliver video service). We’re told that, because the technology used to deliver that broadband is evolving, VoIP isn’t a clear choice.

Now wait a minute. Let’s remember the old mechanical switches that were the backbone of the POTS network. I was actually present when the first computer-based phone switch was unveiled. POTS technology evolved constantly (anyone remember Millie the operator and the old plug boards?) and nobody questioned that, so why question VoIP just because broadband technology is evolving.

Bottom line: POTS may hang on for a bit longer, through inertia, but I think some folk may be surprised at just how soon it is going to go away. Put another way, remember the old American Telephone & Telegraph Company (i.e. AT&T, or Ma Bell)? Well, it’s the new AT&T who last year went to the Federal Communications Commission asking for permission to pull the plug on POTS as the “fall back” communications network in the United States.

Oh, and by the way, the opinion piece appeared on what’s now just a web site called Byte. I remember the days when Byte was formidable multi-hundred page magazine, one against which I occasionally competed. Back then the gurus thought it could never die. Simply unthinkable. Just as its unthinkable to some that POTS will soon die.

But die it did, in 1998, at the tender young age of just 23. Reincarnation came with a web-only offering, launched in 2011. And just as the once glorious age of print publications have migrated to the Internet, my prediction is that our young guru is going to be stunned at the speed at which telephony similarly migrates to the Net.