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—— Forwarded Message From: Ian Andrew Bell Date: Thu, 2 May 2002 17:30:17 -0700 To: PULVER-RPT [at] LISTSERV.PULVER [dot] COM Subject: Sell Me a Class 5 VoIP Switch

Back in 1997, while I was working at Canada’s 2nd Largest local phone company (now TELUS), an SE from Cisco made me fall in love with Voice Over IP. I had just read “Rise of the Stupid Network” and I too believed that Voice was simply a payload for data (but then again, I was a data guy).

Fast Forward three years: It took a long time, but Cisco and others in the VoIP space, including some guy named Jeff Pulver, ultimately managed to mount a successful jihad to convince the entire telecom industry that TDM, as a technology for the transport of Voice, was dead. By 2000, most major telecom companies had announced that they intended to make no further investment in TDM switching equipment.

During those three years I fell in love with Cisco and went to work for them. When I arrived, I was dismayed to find out that there was no ongoing work to replace the venerable Class 5 switch.

Now, when I say Class 5 switch I am not simply referring to a feature group — a true Class 5 switch obviously does a whole lot more. It sits in a squat concrete building and aggregates tens of thousands of individual wires delivers power, dial-tone, and features to those lines. It also connects them to the world via trunks that are aggregated and peered elsewhere in the network. This is obviously a really important point in the communications network. Practically every single phone call today is made or received across one of these aging behemoths, quietly collecting dust as fans whirr away shunting calls all over the world.

We’re now 7 years from when the holy war to kick out TDM began, we’re 5 years from when I fell in love with VoIP, and we’re at least two years away from when it became boldly apparent that the entire telecommunications industry validated that love.

But still they keep whirring away. You can even go to some remote regions of places like British Columbia and stand outside rental trailers, listening to the “click, slide, click” of the old mechanical switches that were mostly phased out by the dawn of the 1980’s and heralded the new era of DTMF.

Meanwhile the venerable TDM switch has been completely devalued. You can buy a used DMS 100 at auction for less than the cost of moving it out of the building. Usually these are shipped to developing countries where they become the basis for TDM deployments there.

ILECs and RBOCs almost certainly agree that their TDM switching is too costly, too difficult, and too cumbersome to build out any further in the context of approaching technology which promises to ease their pain. So the technology is most certainly gone. In the interim, as they wait for new technology, they build loop extensions or repurpose old equipment, or they concoct other creative machinations to bridge the gap.

Ironically, this may be the first time in technological history, and certainly in my feeble memory, when a technology has been obsoleted before there was any technology to replace it.

So I ask you this: Why can the humble, profitable ILEC not go out and buy a VoIP-centric Class 5 switch to service a neighbourhood? Why can they not take all of those wires, make a very satisfying “cut” with their wire snips, and plug those wires back into a device that makes an analog telephone line into the world’s cheapest SIP agent?

That cable that has powered the telecommunications industry for over 80 years is already there, ripe for the taking. It’s already been dug into the ground, strung from poles, and weaved lovingly into the riser blocks. Yet we in the VoIP industry espouse metropolitan ethernet, fixed wireless, and (shudder) 3G as the last mile strategy as we positively stifle the market by trying to sell them $700.00 telephones.

We’re selling to CLECs: a market that for all practical purposes no longer exists. And we’re trying to convince companies and individuals, in the worst economy that the world has seen since the last Republican regime, that they need to spend $700.00 for a phone that does almost exactly what a $20.00 phone does.

It’s not going to work!

[AHEM]

That said, this is an earnest question:

Who is addressing the replacement of those old, dusty, oddly-coloured — but venerable — Class 5 switches? I think I know some folks who would line up to buy.

-Ian.

—— End of Forwarded Message

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