The Public Switched Changing Network — The End of the PSTN is Near

London CallingResistance to change is natural. We all have that yearning for the familiar and distrust of the unknown. The changes we resist are a function of our beliefs, knowledge andassumptions. What we resist (and how strongly) often varies based on our level of familiarity with the subject of the change.

I am reminded of a recent blog post on reasons some businesses won’t switch to VoIP. My first reaction was disbelief. Perhaps I lead a sheltered life, but I can’t remember the last time I spoke with someone who had reservations about the technology. In my world, this feels like selling past the close. I can certainly understand folks delaying the decision to switch due to a lack of readiness or resources to focus on a migration (and Level 3 also offers TDM services for that precise reason). But there’s a huge difference between these scenarios and distrusting the fundamental technology. I could also see trying to convince folks to adopt WebRTC – which, in my opinion, is getting close but not quite ready for primetime.

Clinging at all costs to the tried-and-true — especially when dealing with technology — is a fundamentally flawed approach. It assumes the critical adoption mass on which the old technology is pinned will always be there. Not to mention that, in order to get this perceived safety, you sacrifice new functionality.

The fact is the end of the PSTN is near. Each of the technologies represented by the four letters of this acronym is suffering varying degrees of stress and something has to give:

  • Public. The assumption you can reach anyone else in the world in real-time —and the fear that without the PSTN this cannot happen—is the biggest cause for concern over a post-PSTN world. While there are those who make an argument for the end of ubiquity, I am of the opinion that in order for the old network to truly become obsolete, there must be an alternative method to reach anyone, anywhere, now. Sure, there will be pockets and fragmented communities, but unless they can all instantly reach each other by some means, we cannot do away with good old reliable.
  • Switched. While this acronym implies “circuit switched,” the fortuitous absence of the word “circuit” means the replacement may preserve this letter in its acronym. In fact, the fundamental way calls are connected has by-and-large changed. Whether the word that precedes “switched” is soft, packet, label or some other term, true circuit switching is fast becoming a relic.
  • Telephone. The device that shrunk the world holds the biggest baggage for its successors. While many of us think of our tablets or smartphones as our primary means of communication, the traditional form-factor of a telephone still limits our thinking. The lowest common denominator is voice; however the traditional suite of codecs cannot be a limiting factor to the succeeding network. Any codec that can be used in a session should be fair game, whether it be video, HD audio — or some new holographic codec yet to come. Traditional audio will still be an option as a fallback, providing reverse compatibility to users.
  • Network. Should the next generation be thought of as a “network” or as “networks”? What may seem like a nuance is perhaps the key to unlocking what’s to come. It may be possible to achieve a single homogeneous standard. However, such a design would limit innovation and stifle creativity. I believe the PSTN’s replacement should be open or it will be circumvented (then again, who’s to say such circumvention, if widely adopted, wouldn’t gain legitimacy and displace the establishment?). Not only will network, device and service be agnostic to each other, they can’t be stitched together in such a way as to create roadblock that limits the possible.

This is not to say the sky is falling. When the end comes, it won’t disrupt anyone’s life. In fact, I envision some debate as to when the obituary may be written. Natural selection will keep those technological mutations which end-users favor, and economic viability will do away with outdated models. I, for one, intend to embrace these changes and look forward to new ways to communicate.

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JP Gonzalez

Formally, I’m responsible for our global wholesale voice product portfolio here at Level 3. Informally, I’m that guy that started the Friday donut club.

One thought on “The Public Switched Changing Network — The End of the PSTN is Near

  1. Great post, thanks for the resources. Making it to the WebRTC expo this week? That’s definitely a disruptive technology that, while it may not realize its full impact for another year or so, is on the verge. I’ll be curious to see how the behemoths react with all of their legacy systems!

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