Landline phone calls are in for a shake-up with Spark set to unplug the technology that has underpinned phone calls since their invention in 1876.
The company will phase out the public switched telephone network (PSTN) over the next five years in favour of an internet-based phone system that it says will allow people to do more with their phones.
With the right equipment people would be able to get a range of new features, spokesman Sam Durbin said.
“For example a customer could start a voice call and seamlessly change it into a video call.”
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Customers would also be able to transfer calls from their landline to their mobile, and set up their phones so their landlines and mobiles rang at the same time so they could pick up a call on either.
Spark has been discussing the end of the PSTN and touting the benefits of smarter technology for more than 10 years.
Network general manager Colin Brown said the migration would start in earnest early next year.
Brown agreed landlines could be assigned multiple phone numbers – for example one for each family member or separate numbers for work and personal calls.
That raises the prospect that families could decide which calls they wanted to ring through, with the rest going to voicemail.
The sound quality of calls would improve with the switch to what Spark is calling its converged communications network (CCN), Brown said.
However, there will be some drawbacks.
While there would be no need for people to replace their home phones, Brown said a small number of older security and medical alarms and switchboards would not work after the switch.
People would also no longer be able to rely on older corded phones working for prolonged periods during a power cut, meaning it would be more important for customers to ensure they had a battery back-up for their mobiles, for emergencies.
Chief operating officer Mark Beder said that for most people the switch should be “largely invisible, with minimal disruption to services”.
“The vast majority of customers won’t need to do anything and their existing phones and devices will continue to work normally. The migration entails a small outage of a few minutes, scheduled during off-peak times for residential customers.”
The PSTN has undergone several revolutions, from the manual switching of calls by phone operators to automated analogue switching, and then to digital switches, and was last overhauled in New Zealand 30 years ago. Beder said maintaining and finding parts for it was becoming harder.
“Components are no longer manufactured. We’ve bought every second-hand part we can source from around the world, and people with the skills to maintain the technology are harder to find.”
Already more than half of all phone calls are made outside the PSTN, either on mobiles, through internet telephony apps such as Skype, and on ultrafast broadband connections which only support internet telephony.
While the copper landline network was apportioned to Chorus when Telecom was broken up in 2011, retail arm Spark inherited the PSTN and has been obliged to resell the service to competitors.