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Life threatening flaw in phone system?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 26-Aug-2007 22:51

Today I saw an article on Stuff (which usually remove content after two weeks, so if the link doesn't work blame them) that made me think people can't stop spreading FUD:


Telecom's long-awaited $1.4 billion "next generation network" has a potentially life-threatening flaw - it won't work in a power cut.

The alarming implication of not being able to make emergency 111 calls has rescue services concerned and the government wondering how to ensure phone lines stay open in emergencies.

The revelation comes just months after a revamp of the 111 system and a year after a storm in Canterbury left almost 20,000 homes without power, some for almost two weeks. As a result, Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management Group worked closely with Telecom to ensure telephone systems would continue working in disasters.

Telecom's new all-digital system is to be phased in over the next five years and will deliver increasingly sophisticated communication services to homes, such as video on demand. But unlike current phone lines it requires a mains-powered "gateway" device in each customer's home.


The article goes on and on with this line. But you can clearly see that the "revamp of the 111 [emergency] system] has nothing to do with the telco.

The story doesn't really explain why they come to this conclusion except that the new system uses a "mains-powered 'gateway' device".

So let's explain what the paper failed to tell you: they are talking about Voice over IP (VoIP). When you use VoIP your voice calls go over the Internet connection, not over the landline.

Wait a minute, doesn't my Internet connection go over the landline anyway? In some cases yes, if you use a technology such as DSL, which uses the same copper wires that transmit circuit switched calls (voice calls) to transmist packet switched (Internet) data.

Sometime soon you will be able to get DSL service without having to rent a landline from Telecom. When this happens you could have your voice calls provided by another company using the copper - or simply use a VoIP service such as Xnet VFX.

Here comes the thing: VoIP requires a small box that will translate the analogue signals from your telephone to the Internet digital standards. And here lies the problem: if there's a power outage, this box won't work.

The solution is to buy a small UPS, a device that sits between this box and the mains, and if the power goes down it will provide energy from its internal battery, for a certain amount of time. Ihave two of these devices here at home - they power my entire home office (two desktops, two laptops, printer, router, cable modem, VoIP gateway). If the power goes down I have about 100 minutes of energy to keep us going. Or I can shutdown my computers and have even more time for the Internet router and VoIP gateway.

If you use a standard landline for your voice calls you won't have this kind of problem. That's because the power for the telephone comes down the copper, direct from the exchange.

The article on Stuff failed to explain all this, instead trying to focus in all the horror that would happen if we lived in a society where everyone uses VoIP and no one has a mobile phone.

Which reminds me that you already have this problem today if you use a cordless phone. That's because if the power goes down your cordless phone is useless. Go on, try it without power and you will see.

Why didn't the Stuff folks wrote an article about the life-threatening flaw of cordless phones?


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Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

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