So much for telephone reliability. All the "five nines" guys must
After the fierce July storm passed from Chicago to the Atlantic the
reputations of various phone carriers suffered damage comparable to
that inflicted on the trees and especially the power lines. Plain
Old Telephone Service (POTS), which for a 100 years aimed at a
reliability level where the average outage in a year was five minutes
(99.999% uptime) went dead for days in and around Washington,
D.C. E911 service failed for thousands of households (when
generators failed to start, or caught fire according to one report).
Cell service and that vaunted feature of "Mobility"? Not much
better. Lack of a radio signal from any cellular service plagued
customers in Northern Virginia and other areas for many days. Not
much of a recommendation for cellular as a backup in the case of a
really serious power incident.
Then there was the inability of a landline phone to reach a cellular
phone. That condition persisted after landlines and cell service
both came back.
Internet Telephony and the Future Voice Network
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And, of course, access to the Internet was lost too, for about the same
time as the land lines were down.
The implication for VoIP is that phone service based on IP connectivity
no longer suffers from lower availability than other forms of
telephony. It's not that VoIP got better, the others got
worse. That POTS line you've kept for emergency use probably
isn't worth as much as you thought it would be in a really big crunch.
What broke POTS was the move away from powering phones from the central
office battery. That was the key to phones that worked when the
lights went out. Now the cell sites apparently don't have
sufficient battery or generator backup to keep working when local power
dies. Residential and many business phone lines terminate on
remote terminals (in the green boxes by the side of the road) that draw
power locally from the grid, not from the CO.
Remember this joke? Computer user calls help desk. Agent
asks user to check cables. User says he can't because the lights
are out. Without the consensus understanding that the phones
always work, there's no joke.
The condition of the telephone network these days is no joke.
Your organization may not be able to fix the power grid or what the
phone companies do, but you can take some lessons from this storm for
Check backup power systems--often. Start the generators,
put loads on the UPSs, check to your minimum sustain times.
Ensure that gateways to other networks (routers, session border
controllers, firewalls, CSUs, multiplexers, etc.) have sufficient
connectivity options and power backups.
Check backups on network devices essential to operations such as
DNS and DHCP servers.
Design VoIP phones for centralized powering, over Ethernet, so
that backup power at a minimum number of points will keep all the
See if you can get a "real" POTS line on a copper loop that
reaches all the way back to the CO, or to an RT that draws power from
the CO. Good luck with that.
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