AT&T announces total shift to digital

There is a major shift on the horizon that could mean big things for digital technology and the world of telecom. AT&T announced it will be investing $14 billion over the next three years to move away from its traditional copper network to a fully digital network instead. AT&T has been transmitting over copper wires since it first placed lines between Philadelphia and New York in 1885.

The move toward telecommunications over the Internet through VoIP networks should usher in an era of more efficient data and voice channels as the standard. Eventually, the hope is that we will reach a standardization of all Internet telecommunication networks. Current interconnection in VoIP networks is much like the public switched telephone networks (PSTN), the technology behind traditional analog telephones.

The PSTN routes phone calls through numerous switches on the local, regional, national, and international level.

VoIP networks transmit your voice as binary data over the Internet, instead. This means that a call can be sent instantly between locations over the Internet, rather than being sent over a series of analog switches.

According to the Voice Communication Exchange Committee (VCXC), standardization will mean much less complication in transmitting calls between different types of service providers.

The goal behind standardization is to establish common rules and rates for VoIP interconnection, and a more reliable and cheaper service for consumers.

VCXC is a non-profit startup organization out of Washington, D.C. working to speed up the transition to an all-IP network for telecommunications.

The ultimate goal of the VCXC is to eliminate the current separation between Internet bandwidth and existing telephone lines. This way, companies can eliminate connection and interconnection fees, and pass these savings on to customers.

“We want to erase the lines between voice communication and bandwidth as much as possible,” Daniel Beringer VCXC founder said. According to Beringer in an article with Unified Communications Strategies, an exchange of voice traffic by members of VCXC, including AT&T, Bandwidth.com, and OOma, to name a few, will prevent traffic from accruing unnecessary connection fees.

Being a member of VCXC means your organization has taken it upon themselves to convert to an all-IP network, moving away from the antiquated PSTN.

However, the move toward complete integration of digital telecommunications has some consumer advocates worried about the increasing divide that separates the poor from those who can afford the new digital technology.

In some cases, the expansion of AT&T’s Long Term Evolution (LTE) will allow providers to charge upwards of 20% more for coverage, which may lead to the FCC stepping in to regulate fees. As of now, AT&T plans to carry a majority of its voice and data over their LTE network.

Consumer advocates also believe the new digital networks will not have the same reliability that traditional landlines ensure.

Still, since 2001, there has been a noticeable trend in the way Americans purchase their telecommunication services according to data compiled by the FCC.

According to the FCC there has been a shift away from traditional landlines. The FCC counted 192 million such lines in 2001. By mid-2011 the number had declined by over 40%, to 112 million.

But not only has the FCC seen a decline in traditional landlines, it has also seen a 55% increase in VoIP subscriptions.The FCC estimates by the middle of 2011, they counted nearly 34 million subscriptions in the US, since it first counted VoIP subscriptions in 2008.

Although an all-IP world could eliminate long distance charges for consumers, some people fear higher fees associated with LTE networks will leave those who can not afford the service without an affordable alternative. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Harold Feld, director of the advocacy group Public Knowledge, worries the US may be going backward in providing affordable service to all of Americans.

Beringer, on the other hand, believes greater integration of IP networks and VoIP networks will lead to better service and standards that will benefit the consumer in many ways, including lower average costs and higher average quality of service.