The public switched telephone network (PSTN) includes all of the world’s circuit-switched telephone networks that are operated by local, regional or national telecommunications carriers. It is the basis for all public telecommunications. The PSTN is what makes it possible for any telephone in the world to call any other. It is made up of telephone lines, transmission links, telephone cables, cellular networks and more. Given all that, you might be surprised that AT&T and other major telephone carriers want to get rid of it.
Trouble in Paradise
For decades, the PSTN has provided the backbone that makes business possible for AT&T and other telecommunications providers. Why would they want to kill off what has been a chief source of revenue for years? The problem is that it is becoming more difficult and expensive to maintain and update old PSTN equipment. Carriers realize that the future is in technologies like SIP trunks and they’d rather invest in what will be than what was. Many vendors have already announced that their PSTN maintenance and infrastructure contracts will face end-of-life in 2018.
Of course, if the PSTN was sustaining past revenue levels, companies would be more willing to keep it alive, but it isn’t. Fewer users are connected to land lines because consumers have made the shift to mobile and digital voice services. The fact that there are fewer users does not decrease the cost of operating the network, it simply puts the onus on a smaller user base, driving up prices compared to digital technologies, even further reducing demand. Carrier investment will go where the demand is and so providers are moving away from analog voice products to digital services like SIP trunking.
Making the Switch
Simply turning off the PSTN would be far too disruptive, but the groundwork for letting it go dark is already being laid. In 2013, the FCC voted to give AT&T and other carriers the necessary permission to start testing IP-based alternatives to the PSTN is specific locations and under certain circumstances. Before the PSTN can be abandoned, important concerns about public safety, rural access, affordability, and support for people with disabilities must be addressed. Fortunately, the carriers and public officials have a lot of incentive to make it happen and the prediction is that the move to an all-digital infrastructure will be complete within the next 5-7 years.
There is no question that SIP trunking and other digital means of communication will take the place of the PSTN in the near future. This will reduce costs, open the door for more sophisticated unified communications features, and increase the flexibility of the network.