The choice between plain old telephone service (POTS) and cellular in the enterprise data center may become a very simple one in the near future. Cellular already offers a host of advantages, like enabling cost savings over POTS and allowing for cellular out-of-band management (OOBM) that can connect into a data center wirelessly and perform repairs even when network failures occur (even those that render the location inaccessible by landline-based connections). At the same time, advances in cellular technology have led to offerings that deliver failover connections with 4G LTE speeds, fully sufficient for operating a business. While cellular establishes itself as a wholly reliable alternative, enterprises that have been sticking with POTS simply out of inertia may soon find the rug swept out from under them as telcos increasingly seek to end the legacy service.
POTS, the over 100-year-old system of twisted copper wires that delivers landline phone connections, is on its way out. Those lines are showing their age, and, as POTS lines go to pot, the system is being maintained at a great expense. This is happening even though more capable and forward-looking alternatives such as cellular are hugely popular with consumers and showing rapid growth in the data center space as well.
POTS lines are tying telcos’ hands too. Even as the workforce of technicians who know how to repair and maintain these legacy systems is growing old alongside them, telcos have been obligated by the law to provide POTS as the “carrier of last resort” to ensure that at least some form of communication technology is available even in rural areas. It’s estimated that telcos are stuck spending as much as $13.5 billion each year to maintain their POTS lines. Telcos would prefer to take that money and invest it in modern infrastructure instead, and are, in fact, pursuing a state-by-state approach asking to be freed from their legal obligations to maintain POTS (with some successes). Supporting the case that the need for POTS is fading, a recent study by the CDC finds that the share of households solely reliant on POTS lines has now fallen to just 8%. The path toward a POTS-free future (from consumer to enterprise data center) seems clear and inevitable.
Going forward, look for telcos to raise rates on POTS as they seek to recoup their high maintenance costs, and to further incentivize transitions away from the service. For data centers, connectivity based on legacy POTS lines has already proven more expensive than cellular alternatives. With a cellular data plan costing perhaps $45 per month less than an analog phone line, a business using cellular connections for out-of-band management of their network assets can realize tremendous savings by switching from POTS (a savings of hundreds of dollars per year for each remote site making the change). POTS is, of course, less capable as well. Comparing a POTS line’s 56k to cellular 4G LTE’s potential 20 to 30 megabits, the connection speeds are simply in different leagues. Cellular is capable of digital services that POTS is not, such as multiple data streams, text alerts, and, with out-of-band management, troubleshooting and connectivity even when a primary network connection is lost. And, POTS is less robust. When telecos are called in to perform the expensive maintenance that they’re responsible for, it’s because a line has gone down, or is frayed, or a customer complains of a strange hum on the line every time it rains. While consumer cellular can have certain issues — weak reception in certain areas, for example — business-class cellular as implemented in data centers and remote sites maintains a high digital fidelity, and is largely immune to many threats that can take a POTS-based network offline, such as natural disasters, and, again, downed or damaged lines. With cellular 4G LTE available as a proven, viable alternative for OOBM and successfully used by businesses today, the transition that POTS users need to make has a clarity that their current connections often don’t.
If an enterprise is still relying on POTS lines for network connectivity to their data centers and remote sites, it really is about time to switch. The telcos would love to cease supporting POTS as soon as possible. Businesses in a position to be ahead of that curve ought to do so before the telcos force their hand. If rising prices for POTS lines and the threat of a failing infrastructure aren’t enough reason to make the move, the advantages of cellular connectivity — lower costs, greater reliability, and more capabilities including 4G LTE data speeds and the ability to enable powerful out-of-band management — should make a convincing case that it’s high time to move into the future.