This is not obvious to people who have replaced their older telephone instruments with newer electronic phones, nor is it obvious to businesspeople who work with key-systems everyday. All of these sophisticated systems need external power to operate. But, if the lines coming into the building are POTS lines, you can plug anything from a 1950s vintage Western Electric handset to a pink Princess telephone into the wall jack and still make and receive all the telephone calls you want.
On the other hand, all VoIP phone systems not only need AC power to operate the handsets, they need AC power to operate the router and the modem that enables them to reach the Internet. In fact, even the service provider needs power near your home or business to run the system. During a power failure, your battery back-up won’t help you–because the VoIP router in the street needs power too!
On most days, and for most people, this is a non-issue. After all, how often does the power go out? And when it does, do you really need your telephone to work? This is one of those transitional times when we just don’t have enough real-world data to make a declarative statement. But we should have enough common sense to think through the problem.
During a power outage triple play (video, voice and data), customers lose everything. (They also lose everything when the cable lines are down, but that’s for another column). We can all live without television for a little while and dinner by candlelight can be fun on those special power-outage occasions, but nobody in America is used to losing telephone service for extended periods in times of crisis.
Working with local governments, the VoIP community has worked hard to make their IP-provisioned telephone systems 911 compatible. This is all well and good–right up until the power goes out. Then, it’s right out of a movie…
EXT. NIGHT. AN ISOLATED HOUSE ON A MOONLESS NIGHT SHEDS A WARM GLOW ON THE RURAL LANDSCAPE. MEDIUM CLOSE UP OF BOLT CUTTERS CLIPPING A POWER LINE. CUT TO A WIDE SHOT OF THE HOUSE GOING COMPLETELY DARK…
We all know how this scene ends. Seriously, we know how the real-life scene will end as well. What will happen when someone needs emergency medical care during a power outage in a triple-play household that is outside of cell phone range? How many people will be injured or die before POTS telephone service starts its comeback?
Local telephone companies are thinking about how to replace their lost access lines with television subscribers using a fiber-optic version of the triple play. (How they rationalize this line of thought is also for another column). Perhaps what they should be doing to save themselves is to tell America that POTS telephone service is the Volvo of telephone services. Nothing will keep you and your loved ones safer than the power of POTS. At some point in the near future, Americans are going to figure this out for themselves–as will the lawyers and the politicians. This power struggle may sound like it’s about power, but it’s actually about public safety. Come on phone guys, step up and tell America about POTS’ only unique selling principle–you might save some lives!