We’ve talked about the possibility of an all-IP telecom network before, but the move to total IP telephony is starting to gain some traction. Two months ago, AT&T petitioned the FCC to allow it to kill the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) in favor of an all-IP network. Although the technology behind the PSTN is over a century old, even AT&T is beginning to recognize that we have reached the end of the road for dedicated analog network and thousands of products based on that technology. In their petition, AT&T cited the increasing obsolescence of the equipment used to operate the network, noting that the equipment is not for sale any longer and even new parts are becoming harder to find. Also, it is becoming harder to find technicians qualified to work on the old equipment. In addition, the proliferation of products and services based on that technology has become difficult and expensive to manage; AT&T has thousands and thousands of USOCs (Universal Service Order Codes) still in service even though some are decades old. Of course AT&T (and Verizon) stand to save a lot of money by moving to the much more efficient IP technology.
AT&T’s petition is also seeking less regulatory oversight from the FCC and other regulatory bodies. Their rationale is that old, utility-style regulation no longer makes sense in the more distributed IP world. It is true that the old PSTN is one of the most highly regulated technologies in history while the Internet remains free from the same, but time will tell what level of regulation makes sense. AT&T is also looking for freedom from net neutrality rules which prevent it from, say, throttling Apple traffic or Netflix traffic because they’re “using too much bandwidth.”
In any case, the move to IP telephony has been going on for some time and AT&T is really just looking for a way to convert customers who are stubbornly lagging behind. While looking for regulatory assistance worked pretty well for the conversion to HDTV, the move to IP telephony will be orders of magnitude more complex. AT&T is seeking to start small in a few places, to learn the roadblocks that may exist, before rolling it out on a broader scale. But the question you have to ask yourself is that now that we are moving into the brave new world of IP telephony, is AT&T the company you want handling the transition?