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PSTN: Ending the copper lifeline
By Scott Bradner
In what may be a preview of what will happen in the US, Telstra, the Australian telecommunications giant, on July 29th released its plan to bring a close to the old telephone world. Under this plan Telstra will decommission its copper customer access network and stop offering fixed line telephone service to retail customers after July 1, 2018. In the US, the FCC has been asked by one of its advisory panels to force US telephone companies to do the same kind of plan. Any such effort is likely to have a big impact on US companies in the next few years.
Telstra's plan (http://afr.com/rw/2009-2014/AFR/2011/08/01/Photos/bdcf5e38-bbe8-11e0-82aa-877e4638c84e_SSU.pdf ) is in response to an Australian law that mandated "structural separation" - that is, splitting the part of the company that runs the telephone physical infrastructure from the parts that provide services over the infrastructure. A high-level summary of the plan can be found here. (http://www.telstra.com.au/abouttelstra/download/document/ssu-and-mp-briefing-summaries.pdf) This separation will result in Telstra moving to providing its services over broadband networks run by others as such networks become available.
Australia is not the only part of the world where copper-based landline phone service is likely to be going away.
A month before Telstra released its transition plan the FCC Technology Advisory Council (TAC) recommended that the FCC take steps to expedite a transition away from the traditional telephone network with a target date of 2018.
(http://transition.fcc.gov/oet/tac/TACJune2011mtgfullpresentation.pdf) The TAC's reason for the recommendation was the strong move away from the traditional telephone network, particularly the strong move to mobile-only. The TAC reported that already a quarter of US consumers 18 and over have forsaken landlines for a wireless-only life. In addition, by 2014, half way towards the 2018 target, there will be nearly as many Voice over IP (VoIP) lines as land lines (32 vs 42 million). The TAC recommends that the FCC start planning now for, as well as expediting, the end of the traditional telephone world. The recommendations assume that the move away from the traditional telephony will be towards VoIP and mobile phones, many of which will support VoIP.
What will this mean to you? At home, it will likely mean that you will have a stronger reason to join the cell phone-only migration. In most parts of the country there is competition in the cell phone business, unlike in the high-speed Internet business, so prices will generally be kept more in check. But not everyone is comfortable with relying on a cell phone for emergency service, especially if they tend to forget to charge it. Others like the feel of a desk phone. There will be many VoIP providers if you are one of these types but you will have to have a high-speed Internet service for them to work well.
It will be a bit more complicated at work. While some companies have decided to drop employee desk phones that decision is not yet a common phenomenon. Your company should already be starting to think about the options if your company wants to retain desk phones for its employees. Companies that have PBXs should be able to get a VoIP adapter and VoIP trunk service but if you rely on the telephone company you may be in for some disruption. But maybe you will be retired or have moved elsewhere by then
disclaimer: Harvard has a lot of desk phones but I have no idea what the future plans are for them so the above observations are my own.