What is a POTS Line?

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Haven’t heard the term POTS line before? Don’t worry, not many people use the term or no what it means. POTS stands for “Plain Old Telephone Service”, and a POTS line is an analog telephone line, like a phone line, that you may or may not have at home.

A Quick History of POTS

One of the best engineered networks in the world is what was originally known as the Bell Operating Companies (BOCs), the federally regulated telecommunications monopoly. As you go down any street today, just look up at the telephone wires  and you’ll see this amazing network.

The copper POTS lines were interconnected to patch panel switches, later to be known as a Central Office, that were originally operated by people. A caller would lift their handset and an actual operator would answer the call, at which time the caller would ask to be connected to another person. The operator would physically connect the POTS to a port on the switch and connect the call.

It makes sense that a long distance call had an additional cost per minute component, and early on long distance calls were expensive. Installing and maintaining a POTS line that covered long distances was expensive and the expense was passed onto the long distance caller.

Over the years, the switching equipment became much more intelligent, and the transmission software became more sophisticated, ultimately eliminating the need for a human operator.

In an effort to give businesses more choice and control over their telecommunications service, the Private Branch Exchange (PBX) was created. The PBX, or phone system, provides call routing, personal extensions for employees, call forwarding, voicemail, and many more advanced features to a business.

Businesses no longer had to rent business phones from the phone company; proprietary business phones were provided by the PBX vendor. POTS lines were connected to the PBX and businesses still paid a monthly fee for Plain Old Telephone Service to the phone company.

Additionally, the business was now responsible for installing and maintaining their own phone system network. Using the same copper wiring that telephone lines used, this network connected the business phones to the PBX.

While POTS lines were still the dominant communication mode of telecom, businesses could now order a bundle of telephone lines called a trunk. Trunks utilized the more advanced digital transmission mode (POTS lines were analog circuits).

The other use for a POTS, and is unique to POTS lines still today, is to connect to a modem. A modem is what’s required for:

  • Fax
  • Alarm System
  • Elevator Phone
  • Security System
  • Single line telephone

What’s the Alternative to POTS?

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) revolutionized the way we communicate from top to bottom. As the term VoIP suggests, VoIP was designed specifically to use the internet as its way to communicate. VoIP’s takeover of telecom was relatively fast, but did have challenges early on. Specifically, bandwidth availability was not as robust 15 years ago as it is today. It was also very expensive. Starting with dial-up service (a modem actually dialed a number over a POTS line to connect to the internet) through DSL (digital subscriber line) onto T-1’s (digital trunk). VoIP call quality was not acceptable for most businesses.

Improvements in bandwidth compression and the introduction of less expensive coaxial cable made the internet viable for streaming services like VoIP. The internet was much faster and more reliable and the term high speed was no exaggeration.

The improvement that business VoIP service was significant.

  • Monthly expenses for voice services was drastically reduced, often times by over 50%.
  • VoIP utilized the same networking wires and equipment as computers, so no separate telephone networking was required.
  • VoIP service is ideal for disaster recovery and VoIP calls can be quickly rerouted in the event of an emergency.
  • VoIP telephones are made to work with any VoIP network creating competition and lowering prices for the telephones.
  • VoIP integrates with Internet of Things (IoT).

Is There Still a Future For POTS?

By all indications, VoIP and its latest version SIP are and will be the way businesses communicate. The cost, flexibility, and availability of VoIP provides too many advantages over POTS lines. But, because of its reliability, POTS will always have a place in the business world.

In another way, POTS will always be with us because of the physical infrastructure; all of those copper wires strung on telephone poles and the thousand of miles of copper buried in the ground are being repurposed to support VoIP technology and high speed bandwidth. Used in conjunction with fiber optic cabling, the copper used for POTS is an integral part of our modern communication infrastructure.

As you consider whether or not your business should get rid of any POTS line, you may find that it is important to know why you have them in the first place. As mentioned earlier, you may very well have to have POTS lines to support fire and security. And even though VoIP fax has come into its own and is the preferred way to fax, some businesses do not want to get rid of their traditional fax machine, which in turn requires a good old fashion POTS line.

Here at Evolve we have the expertise to help you figure out what the best solution for your business is.

Contact us today for a free consultation!


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