After assuming office late last year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wasted little time in issuing a challenge to the telecom world when he called for “a diverse set of experiments” to move just about everything to an IP-style network. This meant moving away from the time-division multiplexing (TDM)-based network that has provided communications for everything from alarm systems to Mother’s Day calls.
Wheeler, who took on the job as FCC Chair on Nov. 4, issued his statement two weeks later. While there are many IP-based alarm systems, there are sizable chunks of both residential and commercial services still using legacy TDM systems. If there is TDM technology anywhere in your service offering, you are one of those operations that FCC’s proposal will affect.
FCC’s idea is to move everything in the nation’s telephone system from its century-old network of circuits, switches and copper wires to IP. While the upgrade will cost money, the FCC would argue that, in the long run, trying to maintain physical switches and a POTS-style network will be even more expensive. Simply keeping software current for old switches already is a challenge for many dealers and integrators.
“We have no control over what our customer purchases when they buy their phone systems,” notes Bob McVeigh, vice president and general manager of Security Solutions Inc. of Norwalk, Conn. He adds that the move to IP has been a reality for some time: “Even if the customer has all copper lines, as soon as it leaves their house, it is jumping onto the Internet — something IP-based.”
McVeigh, who serves on ESA’s industry affairs committee, says ESA has been trying to warn the membership that this will happen. “Anyone who doesn’t realize this is coming needs to read more,” he says.
Government Recognizing the Reality
TDM is gradually on its way out. The big telcos like AT&T and Verizon would agree; yet, any FCC program to speed up the transition might not do much to help alarm companies finance the changeover. “FCC is recognizing the reality that the telephone network is converting to IP,” says Charles McKee, vice president of government affairs with Sprint. Located in Washington, D.C., he handles legislative, regulatory and spectrum issues for the company.
While most carriers already have made the transition to IP in their networks, he notes that much of the traffic is converted to TDM when it is handed off. “The FCC has not set a date by which we are going to shut down the TDM network,” McKee emphasizes; however, he adds, they have taken steps to start eliminating the Universal Service Fund subsidy for TDM networks.
AT&T has suggested that the FCC set up a hard cutoff date for TDM, and telecom managers need to be sure they appreciate the difference between the FCC’s current position and AT&T’s stand. AT&T and Verizon would like to transition to all-IP — AT&T already has its U-Verse service in place and Verizon offers FiOS. Vonage and Skype also offer services that would make the FCC Chair happy. But the FCC is not stopping there.
Sprint and other competitive carriers are concerned that AT&T and Verizon — two of the biggest boosters of the move away from TDM — will use the transition as an excuse to get out from under regulatory oversight. The FCC might not see it that way.
Inside the Revolution
“This is what I call the Fourth Network Revolution,” Wheeler says. “History has shown that new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas and ingenuity. Their spillover effects can transform society — think of the creation of industrial organizations and the standardized time zones that followed in the wake of the railroad and telegraph.”
Is IP the answer to everything in the network? Even a company that has embraced IP with a Cisco VoIP PBX sees its output come as TDM. What will happen when TDM becomes a dirty word in networking?