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When was the last time you used a public phone? If you are paying attention, you will still see them on public street and office buildings, do they work? In markets such as the UK, operators are obligated to maintain the network for emergency purposes, but when was the last time you saw somebody using one? 



The fixed line network is a dead business. Sure, many people still maintain a fixed line at home because the clarity it offers is still superior to mobile and there is a certain sense of reliability attached to the fixed line. However, the vast bulk of all the calling minutes generated worldwide are mobile. The traditional fixed line network is expensive to maintain. Thousands of kilometers of copper cabling and circuit switched digital exchanges make maintaining the network increasingly expensive. Most operators upgraded the back haul infrastructure to fibre some years ago, but the last mile is still copper for many of us, and still using overhead cabling in many countries.

ADSL to the Rescue

Operators will leverage the declining revenue from their fixed line minutes business against broadband subscription services over ADSL (Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line). ADSL broadband allows operators to reuse the existing fixed line infrastructure to deploy high speed Internet services. Today, with the correct cabling and ADSL2+ equipment, it is possible to achieve approximately 24 Mbps download speeds over the existing fixed line network. Depending on the age of the network and the condition of the cabling infrastructure, it is also possible to deploy to deploy triple play (Voice, TV, Broadband) services in some areas. However, many operators prefer to use FTTH (Fibre To The Home) due to the performance benefits.

The Fibre Generation

FTTH is becoming the next generation fixed line replacement. Unlike last mile copper, fibre does not degrade over time, is not susceptible to lightning or other external interference and supports last mile speeds of 1Gbps and beyond. The reduced infrastructure maintenance is the big attraction for operators. However, obtaining permits and planning permissions in many areas to dig up the ground can push back infrastructure upgrade projects by many years, especially in densely populated areas. In rural locations it is not economically viable to upgrade the copper infrastructure and in these locations next generation wireless services such as WiMAX and LTE are expected to be the long term solution.

All next generation services require additional CPE customer premises equipment. In the case of ADSL services, a compatible modem or router is required, and a splitter for voice service. For FTTH a optical Ethernet switch and IP enabled POTS ports, are required. This allows connection of IPTV set top boxes, regular telephone connections, and Broadband INTERNET.

How Voice Services are Changing

Traditionally, telephone exchanges were packed full of line cards connecting the last mile copper connection to the end user's telephone back to the exchange. Circuit switching technology was used to back haul the traffic onto carrier trunks for transporting back into central exchanges for further interconnect termination. These networks are being replaced by NGN next generation all IP networks, which use the SIP protocol as a signaling mechanism for connecting calls. This removes the call establishment burden from the operator's network, since the endpoint device is responsible for call setup rather than the network.

However, rather than deploying SIP enabled handsets, most operators prefer the TA (Terminal Adaptor) approach which allows connection of analog handsets to an IP adaptor. The reason for this approach is that a clear demarcation for the service provider is created. The cost of maintaining IP enabled CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) handsets, which require additional configuration and more susceptible to failure, is the reason TA enabled fixed line connectivity is so popular amongst NGN service providers. Ultimately as support for legacy devices such as fax machines and analog modems diminish, the demise of the subscriber fixed line network is inevitable. Mobile calls will become clearer over time, coverage will improve and once this happens the fixed line voice network as we know it will vanish.

By Craig Sutherland  

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