The PSTN is Dead, Long Live the PSTN

Voice telephony has been around for a hundred years. Like nails scratching a chalkboard, these words tend to put my hair on end. While technically an understatement (voice telephony has actually been around for over a hundred and thirty years), this statement is also misleading. It implies there is nothing new or interesting about voice and is generally used to predict the untimely demise of the PSTN. Folks making this type of assertion conveniently forget wired data communications have been around since the late 1830s (think Samuel Morse and the Telegraph).

The comfortable notion that voice services have not changed much since Alexander Graham Bell uttered his famous “Mr. Watson, come here, I need you” is flat-out wrong. The fact is voice has never stopped evolving. The turn of the century (1900) brought candlestick phones, the ‘20s rotary phones; the ‘40s wireless calling; the ‘60s digital telephony, the ‘80s ISDN PRI and the turn of the century (2000) saw VoIP come of age. Sure, the underlying networks and commercial arrangements have transformed, however, voice communications have survived for a very simple reason: people want to talk.

Today, there is nothing boring about voice telephony (asides, perhaps from the name itself). In this decade of the apps, there are several voice calling and conferencing apps (Skype, Google, Line2 and Gogii come to mind). Voice convergence with data is in full swing; wireless is favored over wired and video calling is emerging as another flavor of voice. Tomorrow I may be able to use my wireless data plan to make voice or video calls on my Smartphone’s, well (wait, that’s today)… or call a friend using Facebook. Do these developments signal the imminent demise of the PSTN? If your definition of PSTN involves the notion of a purpose-built circuit-switched network of interconnected voice providers, then yes, it probably is going the way of candlestick and rotary phones. On the other hand, if your definition involves the need to ubiquitously reach people using a high quality real-time streaming interaction, my bet is it’s not going anywhere. Is voice on its last leg? You tell me.

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The Level 3 Editor manages content for Level 3's Beyond Bandwidth blog.

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  1. Pingback: 12 Voice Predictions for 2012 - Beyond Bandwidth

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