What the End of POTS Means for Out-of-Band Management

The landline telephone was once the backbone of telecommunications in the U.S., but the days of copper lines and touchtone keypads may be drawing to a close. In recent years, major service providers such as AT&T and Verizon have petitioned individual states as well as the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow for full transitions from the plain old telephone service (POTS) to near-ubiquitous wireless connectivity. All calls, like Netflix traffic or Skype conferences, would be IP-based rather than circuit-switched.

During this move to newer technologies, 4G LTE will play a pivotal role. A growing number of consumers and businesses already conduct a majority or even all communications via cellular, a trend that higher-speed networks are sure to amplify. Opengear has integrated LTE into its out-of-band management appliances, such as the IM7200 Infrastructure Manager, as a reliable, secure and fast failover for wired connections. Opengear solutions demonstrate what operators, regulators and end users may soon find out: that cellular can handle mission-critical tasks with the same reliability as legacy infrastructure, yet with fewer management issues and at lower cost. Legacy OOB applications, which are run through add-on traditional analog lines, would no longer be feasible in the event of a switch to all-cellular.

What the end of the landline could mean for out-of-band management
The POTS system in the U.S. is crumbling. Telephone lines are more vulnerable than ever to inclement weather, while operators have made maintenance a low priority. Basically, there is reduced urgency to tend to POTS infrastructure, now that many people have moved onto wireless:

  • Almost every U.S. household once had a landline, but a September 2013 report from the Census Bureau indicated that only 71 percent now do. Only 5 percent use POTS exclusively.
  • In 2012, the consumer voice market was led by wireless-only users at 38 percent, followed by wireless and POTS ones at 29 percent.
  • One Georgetown University researcher estimated that telcos spend more than $13 billion a year to maintain POTS.

Taken together, the upsurge in wireless telephony, its myriad use cases that go beyond voice and the cost of POTS adds up to a communications transition that could happen sooner than many may have expected. For telcos, the switch is a way to focus on innovation in areas where consumers and business expect it most.

“Right now where the [operators] have to run both networks in parallel, there’s a huge disincentive for [POTS infrastructure] investment,” said Georgetown scholar Anna Marie Kovacs. “And if you can move away from that system … that can make a big difference.”

What will pick up the slack left behind by POTS, if it is indeed phased out? In many places, LTE. For example, in 2013 AT&T has predicted that by the end of 2014 it would be able to provide LTE or high-speed IP phone service to 99 percent of its footprint, according to NPR.

Coverage has sometimes been a sticking point in conversation about LTE’s uses as a replacement for networks such as 2G in the handling of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. However, more operators are keen to cannibalize 2G to improve LTE.

Additionally, the spread of LTE and wireless networks makes cellular-enabled OOB management more feasible than ever. With an Opengear appliance, IT admins can securely and efficiently managed infrastructure, using a M2M data plan that runs just a few dollars a month, making the solution much cheaper than legacy modems.