Information | Process | Technology

EU e-Privacy Directive

This website uses cookies to manage authentication, navigation, and other functions. By using our website, you agree that we can place these types of cookies on your device.

You have declined cookies. This decision can be reversed.

You have allowed cookies to be placed on your computer. This decision can be reversed.

The End Of The Telephone Line

In 1984 I joined a team of engineers working for ITT (International Telephone & Telegraph) and its subsidiary STC (Standard Telephone & Cable) in designing a “Digital Switching” system to migrate British Telecom from analogue to digital telephony. For those of you old enough to remember when the delay between dialling the telephone number and getting a ringing tone (or engaged) suddenly dropped from half a minute or more to down to a couple of seconds - that was the start of the switchover from analogue to digital telephony in the UK and Isle of Man. 



It may have been “Digital”, but it was not technology that anyone outside of the telephony engineering niche would easily recognise, it was Digital within the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) - which is basically the telephone wires, telephone exchanges, and communications protocols used for ordinary landline telephone communication. Some of us in communications engineering refer to it as “POTS” - plain old telephony system. Over time, as demand for computer connectivity has risen, the purpose, functionality and engineering of the telephony network has been stretched way beyond the function of two distant people talking to each other, and for many of us nowadays the landline is more important for and more used as a mechanism of computer communications than voice telephony.


The continuing use of the PSTN is therefore inefficient, expensive, and limiting, because we are using it for purposes which are way beyond the original design intent. Recognising this, British Telecom are planning to close down the old UK telephone network by 2025 - and replace it with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony. VoIP is basically a system where you talk into a computerised telephone which converts your speech into computer data and transmits it using the same computer communication technologies that are used to communicate data in computer networks. Given that BT are doing this it is likely that Manx Telecom will go the same way, and neither are likely to be leaders - Deutche Telecom is aiming to complete its migration to to digital by the end of this year and Orange (formerly France Telecom) is aiming for 2020.


In reality Manx Telecom are well along the path; their core telephony network is already digital, xDSL broadband coverage and capability is good, and they’re rolling out higher broadband speeds on DSL and increasing the availability of fibre to the premises (FTTP). I suspect that all MT will need to do for many of us is persuade us to switch from our old landline telephone handsets to digital handsets.


From my point of view recognition of the need to change is long overdue, like many people I really only have a landline in order to access the Internet. Most of my telephone calls are received or made via a mobile phone, and have been since the early 1990s. The idea of a telephone wired in to a fixed location seems anachronistic outside the context of business premises, but plenty of people and businesses still rely upon having a landline phone. 


So what is different about Voice over Internet Protocol? Basically because a VoIP phone is a computer network device instead of a telephone network device, it is the VoIP phone handset which has an identity “the telephone number” instead of the telephone line. You can unplug a VoIP phone from an Internet-connected network socket in one building, plug it into another network in another building, and it should still work on the same telephone number.  When I moved to the Isle of Man, over 10 years ago, my UK employer had already switched to VoIP for its internal telephone system and I was able to bring my desk telephone extension with me to the island, plug it into my home computer network and carry on using the same extension number, and the same UK telephone number, as I had been using in my office in Yorkshire. The move to VoIP for public telephony will enable many more of us to do the same, it will enable British Telecom (and I expect Manx Telecom) to convert our “telephone lines” to become solely Internet connections, and will enable the removal many of the technical compromises and expensive equipment which currently exist in the public telephone system just so that we can still use old-style telephones on a telephony network which has in recent years really become a large computer network. 


The benefits are numerous. Obviously telephone numbers cease to be tied to buildings, but far more importantly the “telephone cable” coming into our premises ceases to be a telephone cable and becomes a dedicated computer network connection. It doesn’t even need to be a cable, the use of VoIP means that many more Internet connections and telephony services will be delivered using a variety of wireless technologies - as Bluewave and Sure have been offering in recent years. All this change will reduce costs for the “telephone” companies and give us consumers more capable and flexible Internet, enabling more and better Internet TV, Radio, Gaming etc. as well. A technology migration, generally known as “network convergence”, which has been underway for over a decade, is finally coming to fruition. 


Network Convergence anticipates the future of computer networking, telephony, TV / Radio and other communications services migrating from their specific distribution technologies to utilise a single Internet Protocol (IP) computer network connection - meaning the end of dedicated telephone lines, TV and radio transmitters - and a fundamental change in the nature of the major businesses which control and provide services via these old infrastructures.  Broadcasters are being increasingly divorced from their old transmission networks as more content is distributed via the Internet, and are having to compete with newer and more agile media content makers who operate without the cost burden of transmitters; Voice Telephony services will be increasingly provided by companies which are basically computer datacentres operating without the burden of providing wires to every home and business, existing Telcos are turning into Internet Access providers - the vertical integration upon which the old telephony and broadcast business models depended is being disassembled, reducing the barriers to entry for new service providers. 


And this is where it gets really interesting for us in the Isle of Man. Initiatives such as the Isle of Media, intended to enable more high-value content creation on, and distribution from, the island will be able to address and serve audiences in the UK and globally, largely independent of the distribution stranglehold previously exercised by the big broadcasters. Small and medium businesses will have greater flexibility in operating distributed workforces working flexible shifts whilst still appearing to be homogenous entities to their customers - large companies like Amazon have operated this way for several years but the cost of the technology investment has been too steep for most small companies. 


The end of the telephone line represents a step change in the democratisation of access to customers for digital business, an enabler for consumers to access a more diverse set of services from a broader range of smaller more specialist providers, and therefore a major opportunity for smaller companies in smaller countries, such as on the Isle of Man, to flourish. We should prepare ourselves to take advantage; Network Convergence will extend the effects of the “Internet Revolution” beyond the traditional boundaries of the World-Wide Web. We’ve done OK within those boundaries, with our e-Gaming, Online-Dating and similar niche web-based services and the datacentres which underpin them, but it’s probably time to start a real focus on building out the next diversifications of Isle of Man digital services for international consumers.


You are here: Home Thinking(s) IT Matters The End Of The Telephone Line