Technology Doesn't Do Legacy Well - We Need to Hurry Up

By Doug Mohney February 19, 2014

As the clock ticks away on aging equipment in the phone network, fax continues to be a "standard" promoted by who knows whom, and Blackberry users can't come to grips with the fact that its best days are behind it, I wonder why technology doesn't handle the transition from legacy to new very well. Sooner or later, there's going to be a big blowup and we're all going to get stuck with the bill.

Or maybe we already have. Consider the Target credit card fiasco.  Better hardware methods for credit card transactions have been employed in Europe, but reluctance among U.S. merchants and card processors to spend a bit more proactively to implement a more secure system have lead to hundreds of millions of dollars of losses. Add in the damage to Target's brand and it's a big miss.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) recently called the existing credit card system "easy-to-hack 1960s technology" and wants an immediate switch to a chip-based card requiring the use of a PIN rather than a signature. "PIN and Chip card are widely used in more than 80 countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa,” asserted the organization.

Conversion to PIN/Chip will take tens of months because everyone in the ecosystem has been reluctant to slothful to move forward, with banks formerly happy to write off losses on a cost/benefit trade rather than proactively deploying advanced technology.

Shall we talk about the analog phone to IP transition? There are legacy phone switches in operation today at Tier 1 providers that are past their operational life, past end-of-life, and so old nobody knows how to manufacture replacement boards. At this point, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has just authorized transition "experiment."  No urgency, no set date to switch.

The nation's last major technology transition does not auger well for shutting down the PSTN.  The analog to digital TV transition was originally mandated in 1996 with an original move set on December 31, 2006, followed by a number of pushback dates with June 12, 2009 being the "Yes, we're really serious" final switchover date that actually took place. 

We don't even have a discussion on a date certain for shutting down the public switched telephone network (PSTN) at this point, so it may take either 15 or more years of regulation back-and-forth -- or one good incident where a major city is left without phone service for days or longer. If you think it isn't possible, you may want to look to the Nation's Capital, where Verizon established a track record of 911 outages between 2010 through 2012 culminating in the loss of service for 2.3 million people in Northern Virginia during the summer "derecho"  thunderstorms.

If 911 -- the most critical service the phone companies offer -- can't be operated reliably, what does this say for plain old telephone service?  A substantial outage in phone and communications networks would trigger legislative action and perhaps, yes, a federal mandate to replace equipment that is near or beyond end-of-life.

In today's relatively stagnant telecommunications industry, the FCC needs to accelerate the discussion on PSTN to IP migration. Congress may be needed to throw in some token tax incentives to write off old equipment and accelerate the purchase of IP gear, but this process needs to be ramped up now -- not 5 years and a couple of outages down the road. Does AT&T or Verizon really want to be the next Target?

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing Editor

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