Mark Twain is often quoted as saying “Reports of my death are an exaggeration.” I suspect that if many of today’s communications networks today could talk, this is precisely what they would say.
We hear telecom professionals talk about the death of the public switched telephone network, or read media articles worrying about the end of our copper networks. I always chuckle when I read these terms, because they don’t accurately portray reality. What is really happening is a transition, an evolution and a migration in many cases. If one were to believe many of the reports coming out, one could surmise that we would no longer have a public telephone network in 2018, because we are purportedly getting rid of the PSTN. What we are really getting rid of is the switched “S” in the public switched telephone network (PSTN).
Big-iron TDM voice switches are what's really dying off. These engineering marvels have served our voice communications needs very well for decades. They are now being replaced by a myriad of technologies that still allow any one of us to have a voice conversation with anyone else in the world. Technologies like those used for VoIP/SIP, VoLTE, Skype, H.264, HTML5 and even WebRTC are allowing people to talk to others just fine. The last I checked these technologies were all “public” and made available to all of us over some kind of a network.
The “end of the copper network,” is another interesting phrase. The last I checked, there are still millions of miles of copper twisted pair, copper coax, and copper plant providing broadband services to millions of people and businesses. In fact the de-facto standard for localized networking is still Category-6 (Cat-6), copper twisted pair cabling.
Yes, fiber deployment and wireless networks are growing by leaps and bounds in today’s communications ecosystem, as they should. Fiber has gone from backbone rings to neighborhood access networks and even down to the desktop, but it is still more expensive than copper to deploy and in most cases an overkill to most desktops. Wireless networks provide easy set-up and convenience, allowing users to access web content and communicate with all of our portable devices just about anywhere we live and work. Fiber and wireless networks have superior properties like almost infinite bandwidth in the case of fiber and low cost deployment advantages in the case of wireless networking.
Network operators are not just blindly turning off and ripping up existing copper facilities. Copper circuits will be serving wireless backhaul, as well as consumers and businesses alike for several more decades. The telecom and cable industries are continuously using innovations like vectoring, bonding and Ethernet over copper (EoC) to squeeze more bandwidth out of existing copper networks. These investments are made with careful consideration and network planning.
So the next time someone utters a phrase like “the death of the PSTN,” or the “end of the copper network,” remember that the global communications world is really just shedding an old skin, morphing, and transforming itself toward an environment based on Internet Protocol technologies and IPv6 addresses. In 2018, when the PSTN is supposedly laid to rest, people all over the world will still be speaking to another person, via 'wired' phones, smartphones, computers, laptops, tablets and even video games. There will still be E911 service, and oh yes, you’ll most likely be communicating with HD voice and video too. All possible over a series of publically available communication networks.