You may have heard the persistent rumors that the old AT&T network operated a series of highly-secured, highly-reliable telephone switches. That these switches were buried ten stories underground at strategic locations; that the knowledge about where these switches were located was closely guarded; that the switches were hardened to withstand a near-hit from a nuclear devices.
These rumors are true. Even the wall clocks in these underground locations are shock-mounted on springs so a near-miss won’t shake them off the wall.
I thought of these switches as I read about yesterday’s earthquake and how Internet services were disrupted. The earthquake occurred along a narrow corridor that houses all the undersea cables that connect Taiwan with Hong Kong; and the connections to Taiwan ultimately lead to the US. These cuts and others disrupted both Internet and telephone services across Asia and between Asia and the US.
I will be interested to see what the consequences are for Internet telephony. As companies scramble to restore service, what priority will Internet telephony services be given? Ordinary Internet data can travel by satellite; voice calls do best on wires; a logical choice would be to reserve bandwidth on the remaining cables for voice calls and move data with either lower priority or via satellite. This argues that we’ll see long-term degradation of Internet telephony quality, until service is back up and running; and that could mean movement away from Internet telephony, which will be tagged as less reliable than classical telephony.
The other possibility: since Internet telephony can scavenge packets from any Internet connection, Internet telephony will gain in reputation as something that keeps working even when ordinary connections are unavailable.
Let’s see what happens. It ought to be interesting.