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[Discuss] Future of the phone network

I'm going to create a new thread for my reply, since the two topics 
differ so much.

On 6/8/2013 10:29 PM, Randy Cole wrote:
> [OT]  We have had the number so long that the copper was not grounded (and
> of course there is no network interface).  It was originally a party line,
> and it went to the former Central Office building that is now a health
> club.  In fact the copper in the neighborhood still runs in that direction,
> and is picked up from there and runs underground to the present CO.

Your vanishing central office is going to become a much-more-common 
occurrence, as fiber-optic cables have enough bandwidth to obviate the 
need for switching calls onto and off scarce inter-city "trunk" 
connections: as Shannon pointed out, more bandwidth means less 
switching, and telephone buildings are being transformed from "switches" 
to large-scale A-to-D converters, where your local copper pair (which 
will also go away at some point) is transformed into a virtual circuit 
on a fiber that travels to an adjoining city (or state) where it is 
connected to the actual switch.

At some point, the phone network will be retired: it survives now simply 
because there's no quick or cheap way to educate the public on how to 
use a different addressing scheme other than area codes and "phone" 
numbers. I don't know if Skype or similar PC-centric schemes will become 
the new standard, but at this point, the old-line telephone companies 
are fighting a rear-guard action while they attempt to find a new way to 
"monetize" the network which users are in the process of bypassing at an 
ever-increasing rate.

Of course, cellular telephones will slow the transition, since a new 
generation of users has learned the habit of using ten-digit set 
identifiers to ring their friends, but even there, "smart" phones are 
increasingly able to route voice and video via the net, without relying 
on the old-world virtual circuit paradigm.

E-911 is the hardest nut to crack: accurate location identification and 
ubiquitous access has allowed municipalities to dramatically thin their 
staff of first-responders, and to retire buildings and equipment that 
taxpayers are increasingly picky about in tough economic times, even as 
governments pay our favorite monopolies to provide a separate tandem and 
transport system dedicated to E-911 exclusively. However, the switch to 
cellular coverage has removed many of the advantages of the E-911 
system, since cell users aren't tied to a single address, and cell 
networks can't be relied on in an emergency anyway: they aren't anywhere 
near to the survivability of the wired telephone system, as demonstrated 
by the widespread outages in Boston following the Patriots day attack.

However, even though it's not reliable during emergencies and not 
available to all at affordable prices, cellular will replace wired 
service during the transition from "The Bell System" to 
whatever-we-decide-to-replace-it-with. As a precursor of things to come, 
mobile phones are illustrative: the cell towers are already connected 
via microwave or fiber links to regional switching centers, and the lack 
of per-minute pricing on long-distance calls has spared the mobile 
providers the need of dealing with the immense (and immensely expensive) 
apparatus of hardware, software, and personnel required to bill for 
long-distance service, thus giving  cellular providers enough of an edge 
that they have become the only profit center worth mentioning at 
old-line phone companies such as Verizon.

In addition, cell companies have been aggressive in adopting cost-saving 
measures: they've moved both their wireless and wired apparatus of 
transport from full-bandwidth circuit-switched paradigms to 
"if-available" and "Best Effort" designs that only promise to provide 
the choppy, echo-laden, high-latency shouting matches that cellular 
users now think of as "normal" phone service. I suppose it's possible 
that the mobile telephone companies will gather enough support in 
Congress to start openly offering high-priority service to those whom 
pay more, but most users under the age of thirty have no idea of what 
the "old" phone network delivered, and so they don't know what they're 
missing, and don't know that it's possible to do anything better.

The question is "What's next"?

P.S. In the all-things-old-are-new department, Ma Bell sells a 
"Ringmate" (YMMV) service that allows added phone numbers on your 
regular phone line. It's just a good-old-party-line connection, with 
both phones located in the same house.

Bill Horne

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