Nor’easters Remind us why the PSTN is Useful

Having been one of the early evangelists of VoIP and launching the first magazine in the space – Internet Telephony and longest-running conference, etc – I think I need to take a moment and point out that one of the challenges of consumer VoIP is the need for external power. This past weekend, the northeast just endured a nor’easter where I saw massive trees buckle like dandelion stalks in the hurricane-force winds. I literally saw massive branches just shy of fully-grown tree trunk circumference shatter like a falling ice cube on concrete. Now, somewhere between 500,000-1,000,000 people are without power in the tri-state area.

As a result of this massive storm, some people will be without power for a week or longer and times like this we realize the importance of having a backup plan for communications. A PSTN line comes in really handy and thankfully the phone company is required to allow 911 calls from all PSTN lines.

Still, I wonder if the phone companies missed an opportunity to slow the growth of VoIP by touting the reliability of their lines in a time of crisis. Moreover, if they had marketed this fact, people would likely have purchased long-lasting UPS units to keep themselves in the loop while power is down.

Gary Kim tells us that IBM researchers predict that voice lines will disappear in 10 years and I have no reason to dispute this claim. Still, one of the best things about the PSTN is it is always powered and I am wondering if the next ten years will see the advent of technologies which bring this same functionality to the world of consumer VoIP. I do really hope hope so.

36 hours after the storm this tree was one of hundreds near my house still down and needing attention. I saw dozens of trees like this one, resting on power lines

  • bklansky
    March 16, 2010 at 8:06 am

    When I was at Covad, we started rolling out Line Powered Voice (with Earthlink). I guess it died with Covad but it was a true independant network with voip powered out of the central office, just like POTS.
    By the way, (shameless plug coming so be prepared), this point on power further proves that no mid sized business should buy ANY premised based phone system. Hosted is a clearly superior mouse trap unless you can afford to build the level of redundancy that the Fortune 1000 do, buy hosted. Most mid sized businesses’s phone systme is in the closet, probably next to the mop. Ours is in a data center with multiple weeks of diesel generated power in the even of a powerfailure in the area.
    Would you put your website in the kitchen?
    Brian Klansky
    Vice President of Sales
    M5 Networks

  • Rich Tehrani
    March 16, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Brian, great point about hosted — at least the system works and can respond with a greeting and take a message while the company scrambles to find power. I do remember Covad having the solution you mention with power. I heard about it once and never again. A real shame.

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