1493593219851 - Colin Brown: The future of landline – the more things change, the more they stay the same

Colin Brown: The future of landline – the more things change, the more they stay the same

OPINION: ​Last week Spark announced it was going to be upgrading the decades-old “analogue” system today’s landlines run on over the next five year.

We are calling the new system the Converged Communications Network (CCN), as it brings together all the different systems we have into a single platform. It is a more resilient digital technology that will underpin landline and other voice services well into the future. 

We’ve seen some misunderstandings around what this upgrade actually means, with many people concerned their landlines might be disappearing altogether.  

Clearly, we didn’t do a good enough job of making things clear in the first instance, so we’d like to reinforce that landlines are not going anywhere, phone numbers are staying the same, and customers will not need to do anything differently.

New Zealand has a rich history of speedy technology adoption – people of all ages have been quick to take up things like Eftpos, internet banking, and self-check-in airport facilities. But this isn’t a new piece of consumer technology; this change is in the back end and is about upgrading the system that makes the old landlines work.

The current system is 30 years old, and nobody makes spare parts anymore. We’ve been going around the world buying up other countries’ old spare parts just to keep our system running, and finding people with the skill-sets to maintain the network is becoming more and more difficult. 

By upgrading it, we are switching over to a mature, well-supported, and robust technology which is used around the world every single day to handle billions of interactions. It’s a step many countries have already taken, and not only does it mean we can bring new features and services, but it allows us to keep offering the landline and other voice services into the future. 

You will not have to change anything to keep using your landline. The equipment in your house stays the same, and many of the common medical and alarm-monitoring solutions will continue to work. The main change is that we simply shift your connection from the local exchange to your roadside cabinet, which turns your landline calls into a signal the new network can understand. 

This isn’t a sudden change, we’re rolling it out gradually over the next five or so years. But the reality is people have already been voting with their feet for many years now. Less than half of New Zealanders use the older copper-based landline today. More and more Kiwis are making the switch to get their landline and broadband delivered over new technologies like fibre or wireless broadband, or simply dropping their landline completely in favour of using their mobile. 

One thing people have been concerned about is what happens during a power cut. Telecommunications has always relied on power at some point – currently, the corded landline gets what it needs from the equipment at the exchange. This won’t change on the new system, the line power will still be there, but it will draw power from the cabinet instead. 

But again, fewer people are using this. Most people with copper landlines have cordless phones which require power from your house, or they have switched over to fibre or wireless which does not have line power. 

That’s why we’re recommending people think about having a mobile and USB battery charger as a backup for emergencies. In recent events like the Kaikoura earthquake the mobile network was more reliable, and we were able to restore it more quickly than the landline network. 

Colin Brown is general manager of Networks Spark

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