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Are We Finally Looking at Beginning of the PSTN Sunset?

July 06, 2017

If we are really witnessing the beginning of the end of the PSTN, it’s about time.  Sure, some will argue the beginning of the end started with the initial growth surge of VoIP services but, at that point, it was impossible to grasp the velocity with which IP services would gain traction once they hit the mainstream consumer market. 

Of course, consumer cell phone recycling happens much more frequently than upgrading of business networks and communications systems.  That said, in the past decade, the popularity of VoIP and UC have overtaken traditional voice services, and operators are looking very carefully at plans for shutting down their legacy services once and for all.

CenturyLink has reapplied to the FCC to shutter a number of its low-speed data and analog services due to lack of demand.  It sets a date of September 22, 2017 or soon thereafter as the target shutdown date for these services, which include its wholesale interstate Metallic, Telegraph, Narrowband, Wideband analog, Wideband Digital, Program Audio and Analog Video services.  In fact, CenturyLink says it has no customers for these services at all.

While the PSTN is not quite in the same boat yet, there’s no question it’s getting closer, as more and more businesses and consumers turn to IP-based services.  Part of the question becomes access, but the emergence longer range wireless will make that a moot point, enabling the delivery of high-speed broadband to all corners of the world.  Then it really comes down to a decision of a forced migration – when it the right time to help remaining legacy customers transition over to next-gen services?

On the other hand, in Estonia, Telia Estonia has completed its transition to all-IP with the migration of its last customers, then closing down its PSTN network.  It’s the first Telia business to have accomplished a full PSTN shutdown and one of only a small handful globally.  If was a process that took 2.5 years to complete, which should serve as a beacon for larger operators to get their timelines in order.  This isn’t a transition that will happen overnight.

While forcing migration to IP is one thing, forcing business to jettison their investments in infrastructure is another; and one not likely to be well received.  To that end, Jim Machi points out, businesses have options that do not require them to give up their existing, working equipment, including using SIP gateways to connect SIP networks to legacy enterprise networks.

The migration of most carrier networks is still several years off, if Telia’s timeframe is a realistic example.  But, the fear that business will be left stranded should not get in the way of beginning what is both inevitable and good for business, which is the ultimate digital transformation to all-IP carrier networks.  As we see more and more successful transitions, the pace at which this transition will move forward is likely to increase – success breeds success, after all.  So, while we haven’t reached the sunset of the PSTN quite yet, but it certainly feels like it’s getting later and later in the afternoon. 

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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