Thursday, 29 September 2011

Rutland Outage

Rutland Telecom had an outage this week which they reported on their web site thus:
Service Status Wednesday 28th September 2011 @ 08:35 (BST)
We are experiencing an outage from our Back-haul provider which is affecting all internet/phone services.
Rutland are one of the leading alternate rural broadband providers in the UK, using BT's copper pairs in Sub Loop Unbundling for VDSL2 Internet access similar to what BT themselves are offering with Infinity but targeting rural locations.

What's worrying about their outage is that it is clear that they are totally reliant on a third party to support their service and they are using their Internet access service to provide telephony, which is much more fragile than the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) that we have grown accustomed to.

The traditional phone service rolled out across the UK by the GPO and subsequently maintained and upgraded by BT has been enormously reliable.  Every time you pick up a handset, you get dial tone, to the extent that everybody take this for granted.

IP telephony (VoIP) isn't inherently unreliable but the network behind the wall socket needs to be designed with this kind of high-availability in mind.  These kinds of network aren't cheap though - a cost that is "hidden" in the old phone network due to the long write-down periods (25 years+) on the telephone exchanges and transmission equipment used.

Companies new to the market, especially those who's primary focus is providing Internet access, see VoIP as a simple bolt-on for their service which can add handy extra revenue to their bottom line.  Unfortunately, as Rutland have demonstrated, their network is likely not engineered to the level of resilience that subscribers are accustomed to, so a reduction in service quality is inevitable and given the expected service level for telephony is 100% availability, this can come as a shock.

The problem for ISPs is that the cost of engineering a 100% reliable telephony service is orders of magnitude more than they budgeted for the Internet access network they envisaged.

BT planned to replace the POTS with VoIP in their 21CN programme but the project has been subject to a number of delays.  I suspect these are in part due to the challenges of meeting the 100% availability expectation on a platform designed for Internet type services, but I have no doubt that they will overcome these challenges in due course.  Sadly, they won't get the respect for this that they deserve and in the meantime, if enough people switch to Internet based VoIP and have their expectations duly adjusted, the work may have been for nothing.

1 comment:

  1. On reflection the acceptance of outages on POTS is an example of the "good enough is good enough" phenomenon:

    People put up with mobile phones dropping out, and with the lack of fidelity on MP3's because they are good enough to meet their needs.

    Since most teenagers have more experience of mobiles than land lines, they will have no expectation of quality and so overall all services will tend towards being only "good enough."