Complete Guide to POTS in a Box
The FCC has indicated a sunset of copper based telecom services is coming. Our guide covers POTS in a Box (aka pots over LTE) - what it is and how to implement.
The 2019 FCC order 19-72A1 released big telcos from not only being required to maintain legacy copper infrastructure but also from making it available to users. This means that a sunset of copper based services is on the horizon.
This is troublesome because pretty much every building relies on Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) connections for their alarms, elevators, and other emergency service lines because they don’t require power to function at the edge.
The time to put in place an alternative plan for your alarm, elevator, and emergency service lines is now! Fortunately, there is a readily available alternative. POTS in a Box (aka POTS over LTE) is one way to do this, and this post is here to cover the why and how of POTS in a Box.
POTS in a box Overview
What is POTS in a Box?
“POTS in a Box” is a relatively new marketing term and does not refer to the box in your underwear drawer.
In reality, POTS in a Box usually refers to an LTE device with a SIM card that breaks out analog service or a VoIP line handed off via analog. These boxes include legacy RJ-11 ports, support traditional modem and fax transmissions, telemetry for meter reading, point-of-sale system connectivity, can connect to burglar and fire alarms and elevators, and also may be outfitted with many other types of service ports, such as Wi-Fi and Ethernet.
Many POTS in a Box devices support analog-to-digital conversion, which means that many kinds of analog end point devices can be supported. Meanwhile, POTS in a Box offerings are unmistakably contemporary, not only supporting new forms of connectivity, but also working with corporate VPN servers and even support VLAN creation.
Finally, these boxes are built with reliability and availability in mind. They often support seamless network failover in the event of service outages, and come with several hours worth of battery back-up power.
Why are we talking about POTS in a Box?
Copper networks are old, increasingly unreliable and expensive to maintain. Also they don't generally support IP connectivity. If they do, as in the case of an Ethernet over copper service, it's too slow. Many telecom service providers over the last several years have started migrations to fiber-based services. This technology migration is so far along and has penetrated so many markets that now the FCC is on board with its own mandate governing the sunset of copper-based services.
The challenge with fiber based services is that they require power to function at the edge, which copper doesn't.
There are a multitude of legacy edge devices that have relied on copper connections that now, as copper is riding off into the sunset, need a mode of connectivity. For example, every hotel is rigged with multiple alarm systems (door alarms, fire alarms, etc.) and there’s an alarm panel in that hotel. Every “armed” node in that hotel (doors, fire detectors, etc.) is wired back to that alarm panel, and is enabled to trigger a phone call to the police or the fire department. Historically, these calls would go out via analog lines/POTS as they were the most reliable source of dial tone. Now we need to find a new way to make that phone call out in the event of an emergency without POTS.
LTE, the technology behind POTS in a Box, is a great, new option for connecting these kinds of edge devices.
In turn, analog lines are getting EXPENSIVE
While the FCC has sounded the alarm that the copper sunset is coming, enterprises have been slow to transition. Who can blame them? You can’t just shut off your emergency service lines for a day of maintenance!
So the phone companies have taken to old fashioned economics to incentivize users to move by raising prices for analog lines. In some cases, carriers are making the cost of POTS absolutely absurd to motivate people to move off of them. A $200 - $400 POTS line is becoming a reality and we've even seen as high as $1.6k a line. All signs suggest that it's moving day for your legacy services.
Local Considerations for POTS in a box
Although, by name, POTS in a Box sounds attractively simple, we need to make clear up front that transitioning to POTS in a box isn’t as simple as putting a battery on your alarm wires and calling it a day.
Every municipality has its own fire codes that need to be followed. If you’re not careful when implementing POTS in a box, you could be hit with fines (or worse) when you’re audited by the fire marshal. For example, some municipalities allow a VoIP line for alarm connections while others do not.
This means that your POTS in a Box solution needs to meet your municipal fire code requirements and there is typically a local certification process for this.
Benefits of POTS in a Box
The regulatory mandate, along with the business decisions of telcos to move away from copper-based services (resulting in higher prices for analog lines), might be driving the pursuit of alternatives, but the reality is that there are many benefits to a POTS in a Box offering.
No longer need to rely on traditional telephone facilities
Many POTS in a Box solutions are LTE-based, using the wireless network as a replacement for legacy wireline facilities. Many cellular towers are built to withstand high-level hurricane winds, so they may still be in service during storms that knock out telephone poles if backhaul to other network facilities remains available.
Cellular service also often can be restored more quickly in the event of a network outage. Cellular transmission of signals from alarms and similar devices also can be faster-performing than on a traditional POTS line.
In addition, POTS in a Box solutions have reserve battery power, so they may be able to keep service up and running if power is out locally but the network is still in service.
Typically lower cost
Telephone companies are charging more for legacy POTS landlines, accelerating the migration to alternatives. POTS in a Box solutions often use LTE and VoIP, technologies that can be quicker and cheaper to install and activate (beyond new hardware costs, anyway–see below for more about that).
Businesses do not have to pay to have old wiring pulled out and replaced with new wiring. End point devices do not necessarily need to be replaced either. POTS in a Box-based service prices also are generally cheaper–in some cases business VoIP is free–and not taxed as heavily as legacy landline connections.
Uptime / Availability of service is normally higher
Depending on how critical your POTS is, you can put SIMs from multiple providers into the same POTS in a Box device, building in cellular redundancy. Product reviewers often mention the value of POTS in a Box devices as a disaster recovery or ISP failover solution and that failover to a redundant service option is seamless. Not to mention, call quality to legacy end point devices can be improved just by plugging them into POTS in a Box.
In addition, these devices can be quickly deployed to make service available in a new location or one that has been affected by a problem with another service or device.
The battery back-up available in many POTS in a Box systems also means that connectivity to alarms, elevators and other systems will remain up and running for a time during power outages, and that many system features can still be used. Some of these devices even come with the option to add a second battery for additional back-up time.
TONS of equipment manufacturers provide this service
Supplier redundancy is always a plus, and as copper-based POTS landlines are getting closer to their sunset date, many vendors are providing POTS in a Box-style equipment, such as LTE-to-analog converters. Cellular carriers and alternative service providers also are getting the message that an incumbent telco’s waning support for POTS translates into a market opportunity for them.
Some of the companies offering POTS in a Box gear include Granite Telecommunications, DataRemote, Xtel, WireX, Cradlepoint and CranBorn, though there are many others. In some cases, cellular or VoIP service providers or ISPs may partner with a preferred supplier of POTS in a Box equipment.
Also, if your business has many distributed locations that need a POTS in a Box device, you don’t need to use the same manufacturer at each location. This means you can build in some supplier diversity and take the opportunity to compare the performance and features of different POTS in a Box devices. And as POTS in a Box becomes a more competitive segment with potentially even more players pursuing this opportunity, that could help lower prices on POTS in a Box gear and services.
Transitioning to POTS in a box? Here’s what you should know
POTS in a Box installation and activation can be very affordable and generally quick to deploy, although there are installation variables that can increase the price and the overall complexity of an installation. In many cases, POTS in a Box installation will need to be a managed installation, and can sometimes be tricky. A great deal will depend on what kind of building a business is located in and where in that building the legacy POTS lines connect to an internal PBX system.
Sometimes, lines terminate in a basement or IT closet where you might not be able to get a cellular connection. The technician working for your POTS in a Box supplier or service provider may need to install additional antennas or repeaters connected to a roof antenna to make sure the POTS in a Box device has full connectivity.
Hardware Deployment Required
While POTS in a Box offers businesses an escape route from rapidly escalating POTS prices and a viable alternative to a service option that is soon to disappear, it still requires some investment in new hardware. Either your business will need to buy a POTS in a Box device for an upfront cost for each location, or else the cost will be amortized over a service contract period.
Per Line Rates might appear off-putting
One of the nice things about legacy POTS–at least until recently–was that the per-line rate was easy to predict and did not often change.
Optically, this is not the case with POTS in a box due to the upfront hardware cost. If the cost of each device you need gets built-in to your monthly contract (aka amortized), your per-line rate for POTS in a Box may not seem so advantageous until the new hardware is fully “paid off”.
Traditionally, an analog POTS line would cost you ~$25 + fees and surcharges for every single line in your network.
For POTS in a Box, if you're amortizing the cost of the hardware, your price point might appear more unpredictable. For example, for four lines amortizing vs one line amortizing, the rate will vary. It could cost you $30 to $80 per line which again, optically, looks like “unpredictable” pricing when you talk to your buddy about how much they are paying per line.
But the bottom line is that for your current service provider, traditional POTS is a dying business. Prices will only increase when the sun sets, and for that reason you need to be ready to embrace a new option, and yes, potentially a different economic scenario than what you have become used to.
Next steps: kick off the transition with Lightyear
The sunset of copper is inevitable and Lightyear can help!
Lightyear’s team will work with you to understand your current POTS line inventory, identify which lines can be moved to an IP based solution and what to do with the lines that cannot.
Lightyear works with numerous carriers who can help delay and provide protection from POTS line re-rating, which buys you time in evaluating alternative solutions while letting POTS-in-a-box-like solutions mature and new school POTS competition intensify.
We leverage our proprietary dataset and fulsome portfolio of vendors to ensure that your transition is made in the smoothest and most cost-effective manner.
Schedule a demo with us here to learn more about how Lightyear can help in your POTS transition!
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