VL on VoIP        Issue 85            July 2012

Broken POTS:  Lost Faith in High Availability

by William Flanagan, Publisher

So much for telephone reliability.  All the "five nines" guys must have retired.

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.

        VoIP and Unified Communications              
                          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 enterprise networks.

Flanagan Consulting Can Help You

     We understand not only the technology of networks, but also
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