Verizon goes on offensive in Voice Link deployment

As criticism mounts over Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) move to replace its copper-based voice lines with its new Voice Link service in areas of New York and New Jersey impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the carrier went to work explaining the logic behind its actions.

"In [areas impacted by] Hurricane Sandy the copper infrastructure was wiped out," said Tom Maguire, senior vice president of national operations support, who leads the Voice Link program at Verizon. "There are 500 year-round residents on [the western portion] of Fire Island. In New Jersey, there are 800 customers who also don't have access to copper."

With approximately 1,200 people completely affected on Fire Island, N.Y., and Montoloking, N.J., Verizon decided not to replace the destroyed copper infrastructure.  "Reliability, scalability--you can't do a lot of things on copper, it isn't the best investment to make," Maguire told FierceTelecom.

Fiber was also nixed from the list of options due to its cost versus the number of customers served. The population of Fire Island fluctuates from 500 year-round residents to more than 10,000 in the summer season.

Maguire noted that on the west side of Fire Island, 80 percent of residents had wireless service, while 20 percent had wireline, and that available service from other carriers and providers raised that percentage as well.

The Voice Link program began in 2011 as Verizon explored ways to migrate "chronic" customers--those who have had more than two truck rolls in six months--off of its copper networks in various areas. "After listening to a ton of phone calls from customers about the migration process I felt it was important to develop something that replicated copper's key functions but eliminated its frailty," Maguire said. "We came up with this device that has dial tone. A cellphone doesn't have a dial tone, but this does. It has 911 capability, caller ID with name, and other stuff that people wanted."

The Voice Link device is a 4-by-4 inch unit with a 4-inch antenna, installed on the premises by a technician. While it operates on commercial power, it has a 36-hour battery backup, using three rechargeable AAA batteries that can be replaced by the resident if needed. "A 12 pack of batteries will give you a week's worth of backup," Maguire said.

The service is voice-only, meaning features like faxing, modem dialing, and alarms will not work--a key complaint by IBEW and CWA union spokespeople. However, Maguire said that data services will eventually be available on the Voice Link service.

The deployment of Voice Link in New York and New Jersey was sped up by the storm. Developed last year, the unit has been in a pilot test phase in parts of Florida and Virginia, and received good reviews from a union member who rode along on a deployment in the Lakeland, Fla., area.

Voice Link will roll out in a wider-scale deployment beginning June 1, Maguire said, and that it has so far been well-received by customers in the test areas, as well as by the New York Public Service Commission, which granted limited approval for the carrier to deploy the unit on Fire Island earlier this week.

"When we went to the New York commission and described what we were doing, one of the folks called it a beautiful & elegant solution," Maguire said.

For more:
- Asbury Park Press has this video of the Voice Link device
- IBEW Local 824 looks at the pilot test

Related articles:
Verizon Voice Link plan for Fire Island approved by NY commission
Verizon's wireless replacement plan does more harm than good, CWA, IBEW unions say