GENBAND's Walsh: Power, cooling remain the PSTN's biggest challenges

WASHINGTON, D.C.--One of the inescapable facts about the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is that it is very expensive to power and cool. It's part of why AT&T (NYSE: T) and other large telcos have been lobbying the FCC to give it a timeline to shut down the PSTN network. 

David Walsh, GENBAND


David Walsh, CEO and president of GENBAND, says that the shutdown of the existing PSTN network needs to be done carefully.

"A lot of people have said, 'let the PSTN die in place,' but the consequences of that are pretty severe," he said. "The problem right now is not a technology one, but that this infrastructure is very expensive and is a massive power expense and a big producer of CO2."

What has driven up the operational costs of running the PSTN is a lack of innovation on the electrical and mechanical layer of the network. In particular, the chiller plant technology that cools the central offices (COs) that house the switching equipment has not changed in nearly 100 years.

"When you look at the OSI model, there have been enormous amounts of optimization in all the layers, but there's a layer below called Layer 0, which is the mechanical and electrical infrastructure this all sits on, and there's been no optimization in that," Walsh said. "What you have seen over the last decade is that the mechanical and electrical part is growing and becoming much more important."

Power and cooling expenses continue to rise at a time when the prices of storage and Internet transit services continue to decline.

The cost of network storage, for example, has dropped from $1 million in 1960 to 10 cents in 2010. Likewise, Internet transit rates have dropped from a high of $1,200 per megabit in 1998 to $1.05 per megabit in 2013.

"If you look at that same period of time, power costs in the last decade have gone up by 50 percent," Walsh said. "The amount of power that servers are consuming has doubled, which has led to a tripling of your power costs."

Working in conjunction with CoEfficient, a company focused on clean energy technology, GENBAND said it is helping one unnamed telco transition away from a TDM-based to an all IP-based network.  

CoEfficient and GENBAND said they will help this service provider condense its network of 86 COs with 104 Class 5 switches to just one switch and 39 gateways. The two companies claim when this transition is complete it will generate $8 million in annual energy savings.

Besides reducing energy and cooling costs, the other opportunity in transitioning to an IP-based network is it creates a foundation to handle machine-to-machine and multimedia applications.  

"The real opportunity going forward is having a multimedia infrastructure that can deal with what's coming around the corner, and what's coming around the corner is the Internet of things, but that's where we have to move from the voice-only TDM world to this Internet of things," Walsh said. "We have the Internet today that allows for everyone to connect, but the next evolution of that is when devices and things start talking to each other."

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