Is telephony dead?

As we continue to hear for plans by the service providers to discontinue POTS (plain old telephone service), the question of whether the traditional telephone will soon become obsolete is looming on the not-too-distant horizon. And for those of use who have watched this happen over the past 25 to 30 years, it will be an amazing turn-around. So today we’re doing a bit of a history lesson.

As we continue to hear for plans by service providers to discontinue POTS (plain old telephone service), the question of whether the traditional telephone will soon become obsolete is looming on the not-too-distant horizon. And for those of us who have watched this happen over the past 25 to 30 years, it will be an amazing turn-around. So today we're doing a bit of a history lesson.

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As recently as the mid-1980s, the majority of traffic on telecommunications networks was voice. The vast majority of "data" traffic was "data over voice" in which analog services were used to transmit data over traditional telephony lines. And while services like the "amazingly fast" 56kbps DDS (Dataphone Digital Service) existed for high-performance applications, the speed of 56kbps was an artifact of using "channel banks" that were designed for transmitting voice. (The same is true for the 1.5Mbps "T-1" services and 2.048Mbps "E-1" services.)

And many of us remember the time when the majority of bits per second transmitted over various networks made the transition from the majority being for data transmissions to voice transmissions.

The facts are simple. Not only are we talking less and e-mailing (and blogging and using other alternative media more), but the demands for data speeds are even today continuing to vastly increase vs. the demands for voice. Every new data app requires more "data bandwidth." And voice is still capped pretty well at 64kbps (maximum) per conversation.

Looking forward there are a couple of trends the we see as being dominant. One is that the absolute requirement for having a "phone line" per person or per residence or per business is going away. Particularly in the younger demographics, there are many individuals who are choosing not to have a "land line" are depending solely on cellular communications. And we would not be at all surprised to see the corporate environment evolve likewise. (In fact, this probably already would have happened if it were not for the convenience and functionality of VoIP.) In fact, except for backup emergency communications (which could be handled by a cell phone), about the only application left the requires a "real" phone line is an alarm system. And this can be easily replaced by having alarm systems that are cellular based.

The bottom line is that while telephony and the savings derived from telephony application drove the economic for many enterprises to enter the "digital revolution" in the 1980s, the same technology has essentially now been replaced by its successor.

Next time we'll take a look at some specific examples of how this evolution/revolution is continuing.

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