With POTS declining, cellular becomes backbone of communications and out-of-band management

As we have discussed in other entries, the plain old telephone service (POTS) infrastructure in the U.S. may be in its twilight. While the transition to all wireless, IP-switched communications won’t happen overnight, there’s deteriorating incentive for telcos to maintain copper wire technologies.

LTE, POTS and out-of-band management
The expanding footprint of 4G LTE in particular means that there is finally a viable alternative to POTS, for both consumers and enterprises. For the latter group, legacy out-of-band applications that depended on POTS can give way to more efficient and economical cellular OOB management, via an Opengear appliance such as the ACM5500 Management Gateway with built-in 3G and 4G LTE connectivity.

Data plans that run only a few dollars per months can replace costly add-on modems. Overall, LTE’s versatility for OOB management, machine-to-machine communications and HD voice could spell the end of POTS much sooner than one might have expected just a few years ago.

Telcos, FCC eager to explore a successor to POTS
It’s no surprise that telcos are keen to move past POTS. Maintenance of voice-only infrastructure costs them more than $13 billion a year, at a time when data-based revenue has at the very least drawn even with voice. In the fourth quarter of 2013, mobile data brought in almost $25 billion, making it the top driver of growth among U.S. carriers.

The Federal Communications Commission is also sanguine about the prospects of IP telephony picking up the slack from POTS. It has considered recalibrating regulations about telephone service to account for the spread of 3G and 4G connectivity as well as bundled phone-cable-Internet offerings from providers like AT&T and Comcast.

“History has shown that new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas and ingenuity,” stated FCC chairman Tom Wheeler last year, according to The New York Times. “Their spillover effects can transform society – think of the creation of industrial organizations and the standardized time zones that followed in the wake of the railroad and telegraph.”

While POTS is still here, the wireless revolution is already well underway. Take the burgeoning voice-over-IP and voice-over-LTE markets for example. There may be more than 1 billion mobile VoIP users by the end of 2017, according to a report from Juniper Networks. Popular services such as Skype face increased competition around the world from LINE, Viber and other over-the-top (OTT) solutions. OTT messaging client WhatsApp, acquired earlier this year by Facebook for nearly $20 billion, is preparing to offer voice calls, too.

Not to be outdone, telcos have stepped to the plate with HD voice through VoLTE. Whereas a circuit-switched 3G call has four octaves of bandwidth, a VoLTe one has seven, resulting in increased clarity. While carriers are still expanding their LTE footprints so that calls don’t drop when moving beyond the coverage area, there’s already noticeable benefits in call quality and routing (calls are sent as packets, just like any other pieces of data).

High-speed wireless connections mean better VoIP, OOB management
Moreover, ample bandwidth is the key to the next generation of mobile data services, and LTE provides just that. Ubiquitous VoLTE would not just be a replacement for POTS, but a leap forward for both consumers, enterprises and network operators, thanks to fast call setup times and rich communications services predicated on LTE.

For businesses, it’s already feasible to rely on cellular for mission-critical tasks such as remote site management. Rather than rely on modems and traditional lines, they can use wireless networks for secure, efficient failover and access to infrastructure from anywhere. Opengear appliances integrate 3G and/or 4G LTE through affordable M2M data plans that cost a fraction of the price of an enterprise line.