Wednesday, May 11, 2005

When will other networks be as reliable as the PSTN?

When will other networks and devices become as reliable as the public switched telephone network? Why do we seem to take it as a given that our computers will crash, the we'll lose our DSL connectivity, or that our cell phone will drop calls?

I started thinking about this today as I was driving home from work...this morning. Our internet access was down (again) at work, and I had a web presentation that I had to deliver at 11:00. As I was driving home, I was speaking to a co-worker on my mobile phone, and my signal suddenly dropped to zero and I lost the call. I'd like to say something like "stupid T-Mobile," but that's not it. I know of no one in the country that's happy with their cell phone service. Well, maybe one, but even she loses calls occasionally. She, like all of us, expects it. Why is this? Why do we expect that this will happen?

I'm trying to remember the last time I've had a landline go down on me. I think the last time I can remember it was around 1983 or so at my parent's house. Of course, we lived in the sticks at the time, were still using rotary telephones, and all of the lines ran on poles at the side of the road. We had a horrendous storm, with trees down all over the place, and I think our phones were out for about an hour or so.

So that's about 22 years since I've lost my landline. Ordinarily, though, I just use my cell phone. I have a landline, but typically I don't even have a phone connected to it. (Except for my DirecTiVo...when will DirecTV get with the program and let me do the daily call over the net? But that, as Alton Brown would say, is another show). Given that I had an important presentation/call today, though, the first thing I did when I got home was to go down to my basement and dig out my old phone and hooked it into the wall. Not surprisingly...I had an immediate dial tone, and the call was clear with no drops for the 50 minute presentation.

Do we expect this because cell phones, computers, and the internet are relatively new? The internet itself was designed to be robust and flexible enough to withstand nuclear war. Is it the last mile problem, where the backbone stays intact, but the runs out to individual houses flake out? Or is that these things have become such commodities that users expect that something so cheap is just bound to fail on occasion?

Even there anything we can do about it?


At Wednesday, May 18, 2005 8:31:00 AM, Anonymous Bob Bane said...

Amen. I recently got a Vonage box at my house, to replace my second land line (the line used for backup net access and child/boarder phone calls). Doing this will save me $5 a month.

I will give up my primary PSTN line when some other technology matches it for reliability and emergency stability - cable and cell phones (the other options in my neighborhood) would be useless in a power outage.


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