Oct 27, 2013

Escaping Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS)

I have an Internet connection and an SIP based analog telephone adapter (ATA) and you have the same. Why can’t we call each other directly? Well we can but most people don’t have things setup for this to work. There is also potential for this to work as smoothly as we connect to a web page but there is not much incentive for service providers to help people bypass them and standards that seek to support this are not widely enough adopted yet. The users are the only ones with the incentive on this and at this point it is possibly more difficult to setup than they would prefer.

The Internet has a great way to match up a unique URL like http://www.pakitong.com with the unique ip address of the server that hosts this web page. This standard service is called Domain Name Service (DNS) and it’s wide adoption makes the Internet a much more useful place. There is another standard which attempts to do the same with another unique piece of information: the phone number. That standard is called e164. It seeks to match up your unique phone number with an email address, website, VoIP addresses or more on the Internet. I would recommend e164.org to learn more about it.

This standard holds great promise but needs to be implemented in the software in the devices connected to the phone. The soft phone, analog telephone adapter (ATA) or the PBX, whatever it is that interfaces your phone with the Internet. The idea is for the calling device to check the e164 directory first when dialing a phone number to see if it is possible to connect directly to the number over the Internet before then trying it through the public switched telephone network (PSTN). A good example of a device that could do something like this is the Cisco SPA3102 Voice Gateway. It is a good product but I never was able to configure it so that there was no echo on the analog phone line. The next problem is that hardly anyone lists themselves in any of the e164 directory services. So if you have everything setup to work you will have no one to call. Support for e164 will require some sort of critical mass before it gets that kind of support. Until that time it is still possible to bypass the phone company and be ready for that day.

I have to confess, my preferred solution is to have two phones. One connected to the phone company and one (the long distance phone) connected to a flexible voip service like Voip.ms. I continue to use the “plain old telephone service”. It is very well engineered and it integrates better with 911 service. I find that supplementing it with voip service is cost effective and gives me some extra flexibility.

My preferred ATA is the Cisco PAP2T-NA. I have family in other parts of the country. We tend to call them frequently so it is cost effective for all of us to adopt the dual phone strategy. Either ATA can be configured to dial a “hotline number” direct to the other ATA over the Internet before using the voip service in the dial plan.


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