Is Time Division Multiplexing Dead? – Part 2:

telecommunication procurement servicesHolding on to a “stagnant” technology is not in the best long term interest of your organization. (I am guessing you are either government or hospital/education). TDM is not dead per se but is definitely static as far as growth goes. It has been about a decade now since the first evolution of VOIP in the enterprise and private markets. In the last 10 years the manufacturers have all shifted their focus towards VOIP because of it’s obvious selling points and huge infrastructure and capital investment advantages for the enterprise markets. It’s here and it IS a reality.

There will always be niche markets where the need for older technologies will still exist. However these markets are shrinking RAPIDLY because of the huge advantages for VOIP.

I respectfully disagree with many of the comments about VOIP that I have seen here and am quite shocked to be honest with some of them. “Unless the costs
of bandwidth comes way down from where it is now”? Bandwidth on WAN circuitry has PLUMETTED in the last decade as the technology advanced and is every bit as cheap and virtually unlimited compared to traditional PRI or copper phone lines. The fact is that many of the carriers actually charge you more for the older technologies now because they have to try to support it on newer base platforms. It’s really a matter of negotiations with carriers and quality of your design and your own technology skill sets available (your people).

“G729 call quality is not ready for prime time” sounds just like “cell phones will never become standard” arguments from 20 years ago. It just isn’t true. QOS is almost “out of box” standards now and VERY easy to implement.

I was in the TDM based field as a technician for an interconnect company ( Nortel,NEC etc) and as onsite technical expertise on TDM systems for many years. I have now seen 4 different enterprise level companies grow from TDM to VOIP. One company I was with converted their whole operation to VOIP (over 2k endpoints/phones) in over 130 offices across the US and 4 in Canada in less than a year. Total capital investment was about 2 million. The first month alone we saw a 40k decrease in the costs of interoffice and LD calling rates due to older circuitry removal, contract renewals with carriers etc. Do the math and see the ROI. (One of our offices was in NY City and we routed their LOCAL calls through the WAN to San Diego CA and then BACK to NY via our LD trunks in SD and it was cheaper than if we made the call on a traditional copper line right out of their office with the local carrier.  The manager was “stunned” and his budget was very happy.

It comes down to this for the “future” as you ask.

  1. 1. TDM is dead…..but understand that statement.
  2. 2. TDM logistical support and expertise is drying up RAPIDLY. Mfg’s are “sun setting” many TDM products that were top of the line equipment just 5 years ago.
  3. 3. Carriers are walking away from TDM literally by the day and that means only 1 thing for customers to continue to use it….COSTS will go up for you if you do not embrace VOIP and PLAN for it
  4. 4. Your environment with 8k endpoints I am AMAZED you have not at least started to transfer your platform…but that really comes down to your environment and budget.
  5. 5. Planning /engineering and BUDGET to convert. And, at the end of the day, YOUR people

Look around you, seen a telephone booth on the street lately?? Do you still have a copper phone line in your house? 47% of US households now DON’T…. 5 years ago, that was only 21%.

My take, within 5 to 10 years…and I am being generous….TDM will be all but be gone.

Exactly, as networks become more robust and bandwidth becomes less expensive, enterprise voice systems could potentially move out to the carrier or even, perhaps, co-ops. And while SIP will certainly add flexibility to the handsets we choose, SIP service offerings will eventually enable us to all but ignore capacity concerns. As long as the pipe’s big enough, you can take and receive as many calls as you like. No more buying extra PRIs just to get enough channels to cover your peaks, just pay as you go.

Voice is an application that runs on a server (managed by the server/storage team) that runs over an IP network that is managed by the Network team. Traditional telecom is morphing into Unified Communications with contain the entire spectrum of end user communications: Voice; Voice Mail; Video; IM; Collaboration; etc). Indeed , voice is a specialized application, like SAP, and requires architects, engineers, and administrators to design and manage it effectively.   It is not Telecom vs. IT or Telecom vs Networks…… old school thinking that may live on in some organizations but the trending says otherwise.  The discussions in 2011 should not be surrounding TDM vs. VOIP, but rather “on premise” vs. Cloud.  While Voice-in-the-Cloud (enterprise) is still in its infancy I would be thinking hard before making a long term investment in a new on premise, proprietary PBX system.  Because if not cloud, SIP is clearly just around the corner and those $200-300 proprietary handsets will be a thing of the past.  Just my opinions

I am not sure that I agree with you.  I see that telephony has evolved into an application that runs on the network.  Granted, it requires special treatment (like significant QOS monitoring), but really, it is just another application.  We are morphing support for telephony into two distinctive arenas, the analyst side which supports the applications of telephony (standard features and functionality, ACD, our Call Center app, Genesys, call recording, telemanagement system, and now all the collaboration tools will be under our support like video conferencing) and the technical side, which will merge in with the network engineers.  As a telecom professional, an old school TDM telecom manager, I am really excited about the change, I think we have the best technology in all of IS, and I can’t wait to bring it to our enterprise and see what happens with the new collaboration tools.

The future of the telecom manager or technicians/administrators is very simple……evolve into a network engineer/ manager or retire. It really is that simple. All of what you stated in your email was stated in different terms in mine…you being a much better writer than I am but the same message none the less. And the message you ask about jobs or positions is again very simple to answer. Phones are simply ancillary devices on the network and you don’t need a “telecom dept” to maintain them. The future for the “old phone tech” is gone. You either adapt to networking technologies…i.e. VOIP or eventually…you are eliminated. Look at what’s left in the Interconnect support vendor arena. What was once….as recent as 10 yrs ago……a huge employer, is now a shell of itself. I worked for one of the largest in the country. That company in the last 10 years has changed ownership about 5 times and is now about a 10th of its size in its heyday.

Evolve……with the exception of a few niche markets….govt and hospital/education……….the TDM world is dead!!!!
It’s like mainframes…..seen one around lately???

I have been trying to look into the crystal ball with regard to our industry. Some observations:

  • Traditional landline, especially in residential, is dwindling.
  • SIP trunking options are growing and potentially offer greater options and flexibility than PRIs.
  • With the use of DHCP and PoE, VoIP handsets/workstations are increasingly more flexible to manage than their TDM counterparts. (no punch tool required!)
  • The cost-per-port on network gear is dropping while switchgear companies are moving to more uniformity and standardization (e.g. Cisco vs. Force10)
  • Routing VoIP calls over the LAN, the WAN, and even the Internet is becoming easier and cheaper than ever before.
  • The cost of local, LD, and even international calling services is gradually becoming a loss leader for carriers to sell other services. (hello bundles and sub $.03 LD, even free LD on cellular)
  • Hosted voice solutions by carriers are slowly growing and becoming a part of the regular conversation with clients

I’m not stating anything revolutionary here. It’s all pretty obvious, I think. What I’ve been twiddling over is how these things and others are going to fundamentally change how voice is done. Cellular has become not only ubiquitous but threatens to all but KILL residential landline telephony. There will always be a contingent of residential landline but it will eventually be pushed to the periphery and ultimately priced to prohibit. That being said, VoIP has the potential to do the same to TDM (both in the PBX space as well as the telephony space) at the enterprise level.

What I’ve been thinking about is how that could potentially take place and what path the changes may take. I suppose the thinking is a little selfishly motivated as I’m wondering what the job of a telecom manager will look like, say, ten years from now. We made the shift to VoIP in 2007 and already I’ve seen a shift in some responsibilities as some work gets displaced. Moves, for instance, are completely handled by facilities/service desk or even the end users now. Network engineers have a lot more involvement in operational issues – particularly troubles and outages – now. I’m seeing enterprise voice gradually becoming all but self-service and the role of the telecom pro to be a combo of “Maytag repair man” and implementation with very little daily operational involvement.

Voice appears to be becoming a commodity of sorts. So where’s the wave?

Anyone else pondering the future?

We are already seeing this today in cloud based providers offering a pooled subscription across multiple sites.  i.e. 100 lines shared among 10 facilities with overflow capabilities that allow the subscriber to go over capacity without incurring extra cost as long as it stays under a specific threshold.  Traditional telco only comes into the picture in two scenarios: Reliable data service is not available at the site or for backup redundancy purposes only.  This is why I like hosted VoIP providers that deploy a “home” box at each site capable of supporting secondary internet connections, ancillary devices, paging and MOH interfaces and lastly, backup trunks that can be pushed to the Polycoms, Snoms or Ciscos when the cloud is distant or better yet, solve basic 911 issues.  Only few cloud providers get this concept and the better ones have designed the “home” box to be interdependent where the phones still “phone-home” in its absence provided an internet connection is still present; failover in absence of the failover so-to-speak.

I will tell you that I am living through this right now and as the senior voice technologist I am leading the effort to take our 12,000+ station enterprise into VoIP. I just cutover my 1st site about 200 stations right before Christmas as a precursor to a pure VoIP install in a 640,000 square foot building that will open in March of 2012.

I agree that TDM is on the decline but the future for voice technologists will be up to the individual and their organization. What I’ve discovered here is that the Network infrastructure team doesn’t really want to be in the phone business and this has created a partnership between our teams.

The Network team is managing the data network backbone out to the PoE switches.

My team manages:

  • Endpoint deployments & monitoring/forensics
  • Business analysis (to match features with department workflow)
  • Station provisioning
  • System provisioning, maintenance and routing.
  • Edge devices like ATA’s (still require cross wire) and Gateways (for localized trunking and survivability).

You want to remember that endpoints still fail and still need to be deployed and users must be trained on how to use these new tools. I am piloting ALL the self service capabilities that my platform offers (and there’s a lot). However, some people want to take advantage of this and some don’t. So I tell them use what you want and remember that the Help Desk and field techs are still available to you. Some people were even stressing out about this and you have to remind them that this new device does a lot more than your old phone but if the bells and whistles don’t impress you or even intimidate you just remember it’s still just a phone if that’s how you choose to use it.

  • There are soft-phone clients for desktops and wireless devices like PDA’s, i-Phones, i-Pads and other Smart-phone devices.
  • There are remote workers that need endpoint support.
  • Yesterday I just made my first video call through our new platform and this is just another example of another end-point solution that will need support.

In our enterprise phone replacements and moves still require a technician. As a matter of network security we use “port security” to keep people from moving their PC’s and other end-points. If you move your device without telling the network team you will be very disappointed because your MAC address is locked to the switch port. So a move or change must be tightly coordinated between the field techs and network team. Also, how many companies patch every jack to a switch port? I know we don’t.

The one thing I have been stressing to my team is that there is plenty of work for everyone. Our new platform runs on two IBM Blade Centers and I explained to my team that they are just going to watch that hardware get installed and will not likely ever touch it. If we have a hardware issue IBM will come in and resolve it. But as someone already said their job will morph to an application role. I was even astounded by the amount of Hardware that we are maintaining today in the TDM environment as compared to the two microwave size chassis that will accommodate 30,000 stations. So even though there’s a lot less hardware there is a lot more application.

About John Gelhard

Cofounder of CarrierBid - 20 years of experience in telecommunications - working for local phone & cable companies, competitive carriers, VARs and interconnects - including CenturyLink, AT&T, Cox & TelePacific.

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