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Telephony's Future: Fewer Fixed-Line Networks, Ample Phone Number Supplies


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November 15, 2011

Telephony's Future: Fewer Fixed-Line Networks, Ample Phone Number Supplies

By Susan J. Campbell, TMCnet Contributing Editor

The advancement of peer-to-peer technology has skyrocketed the use of VoIP (Voice over IP) applications like Skype (News - Alert), yet telephone numbers and carriers aren’t expected to disappear any time soon. The competition from VoIP applications simply demands a renewed focus on least cost routing.

According to Neustar’s outlook on the future of telephony, as reported in this Sys-Con Media piece, nearly one-eighth of the world’s population has a Skype account, yet even that peer-to-peer application uses the public switched telephone network (PSTN). And, while the use of fixed-line telephone services has taken a huge dip in recent years, least cost routing is still a priority.

Least cost routing is the process by which telecommunications providers choose the path of the outbound communications, setting cost as a priority. Least call routing also allows customers to transfer their numbers from one service provider to another.

One decade ago, there were 500 unique telecommunications operators in North America. Today there are more than 2,000 that provide choices for consumers, creating healthy competition.The National Portability Administration Center (NPAC) is managed by Neustar, which helps connect those 2,000-plus carriers, and routes calls between them, seeking the optimal least cost routing choice. Since 1997, Neustar has helped implement changes, including the addition of VoIP carrier portability, Internodal portability, and wireless network portability.

Time-division multiplexing has proven to show some promise in least cost routing, although some caution that Internet protocol telecommunications has not proven itself where security and load balancing are concerned. Neustar has kept up with technology, and supports IP, but the use of IP telecommunications is still new.

With the focus on technology and Internet access globally, some parts of the world are getting Internet before a fixed-line telephone. Despite this trend, there is still some concern that there aren’t enough telephone numbers to satisfy current and potential demand. Neustar attempts to quiet this concern by highlighting that while the discussion is important and should continue, there will likely be enough numbers to last another few decades, or more.

At the same time, consumers want to hold on to their numbers, even if they switch from one carrier to another. Mobile number portability has impacted least cost routing as well as VoIP. Least cost routing providers can’t rely simply on a portion of a user’s number to route calls. They now have to query every number before they can efficiently route the call.

Many consumers are switching from fixed-line to mobile phones, and the number often is an indicator of their location, geographically. Neustar has overseen the portability aspect of this trend, especially since businesses tend to want to maintain that geographical quality of their number.

As the fixed-line network continues its gradual ride down the slope, however, that trend could find itself slowly dying. Still, ask a Los Angeles resident with a 310 area code if they would mind switching to an 805 or 562 area code and you could get a vicious response. Given consumer preference, least cost routing will remain an important focus for years to come.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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