What is a POTS phone line? Do you need one?


You have probably heard the term “phone line,” especially for those who rely on standard telephone systems. Many of these traditional landline phone systems use a physical line, which is why it is called a phone line. However, the technical name for a standard telephone system is POTS. Find out what is a POTS, and why you might need one.

Are you searching for communication solutions for your business? G12 Communications offers a variety of options, including the cost-efficient VoIP!


POTS Basics

POTS is a short term meaning “plain old telephone system.” This analog phone system travels over copper twisted wires. For many people, they grew up with this traditional type of phone system. 

Copper wires carry your voice from one location to another. These copper-based systems allow voice communication to traverse across countries and even continents. Since the 1880s, businesses and individuals have used this standard telephone system to communicate with each other. 

Many of the first phone lines were suspended from poles, and you saw them dangling throughout communities. However, technological advancements allowed many of those copper wires to be buried under the ground. 

Initially, POTS was short for “post office telephone service.” Why was that? In the early days of communication, post office operators were responsible for connecting callers to their destinations. Over the years, the post offices relinquished their telephone duties, and the plain old telephone service was born. 

In some situations, POTS are even called the “public switched telephone network.” 

Related: Transitioning to a Cloud PBX Service: Keys to a Successful Deployment


How Does a POTS Phone Line Work? 

Throughout the decades, the setup of the POTS has remained the same. However, over the years, some upgrades have brought this telephone system into the modern era. What still remains is the copper wire. These wires are still an integral part of this telephone system. 

Concerning the mechanics, the general purpose of a POTS line establishes a direct connection from Point A to B. Years ago, the parties required an operator to connect the call. Today, the system is almost fully digital and automated.


Smiling man on phone

POTS Technology 

In the early days of telephony, phone calls were connected with a physical wire. Think of this technology like a tin can telephone network, but over a longer distance. With POTS, the cost of stretching wires was reduced. POTS allow switches to be placed at a centralized location

Along with that, communication nodes allow two points to be connected to the network. Calls were routed through one or several stitches depending on whether you needed to communicate across town or overseas

Those copper lines have always been susceptible to interference. For that reason, these wires travel in a continuous stream. However, the lines could only be used for one single call unless it was switched. These types of systems were known as circuit switching.


Circuit Switching

In the past, circuit switching required the help of a human operator. They would sit by a giant switchboard and plug copper wires into a patch panel. 

Long-distance calls could be completed but at a high cost. Callers often paid by how much wire was required to connect the call. Over the years, the technology for circuit switching thankfully changed. The invention of the transistor allowed the world to connect to one another easily. 

Related: Case Study: Building a Phone System That’s Truly Worth Smiling About


Transistors are partly responsible for paving the way for a digital network. Today’s current phone lines carry digital signals known as “packets.” These packets allow the transmission to remain open so that voice and data can move independently through these switches. 

A copper line is still used to carry the human voice in both directions, but some digital signals cannot be connected, especially in the form of 0s or 1s. However, that doesn’t mean that you need a whole new system to receive those signals. Some hardware components can be added to transmit those frequencies.


Finally, the modem! This component is used to help those POTS to implement digital technology without a complete overhaul of the phone system. There are two types of moderns: DSL and ISDN

With DSL (digital subscriber line), the data is transmitted over the copper wires of the telephone system. A transceiver connects to a personal computer and uses the local phone network to reach an ISP network. This type of system is a popular choice for small businesses because it allows many users to access the internet. 

The second option is an ISDN (integrated services digital network.) Like DSL, you can connect to the internet over a traditional telephone line. Both data and voice are transmitted with a single copper line. With ISDN, the calls are connected faster with higher quality. This modern provides other features, such as holding queues, on-hold music, and routing. 

Related: Microsoft Teams Voice Options: What’s Best for Your Business?


Do You Need a POTS?

There has been a discussion about whether you need a plain old telephone system in today’s world. The cost of maintaining a POTS is much higher than VoIP (voice over internet protocol). 

In many places where internet coverage is spotty, POTS is still a reliable choice. According to the Center for Disease Control National Health Information Survey (NHIS), about 45.9% of American households still use a POTS phone. These phones help call 911 in emergencies and connect to DSL services. In many cases, POTS is known as the “Carrier of Last Resort.”

However, many businesses have migrated their POTS to VoIP and PBX. Why? These systems are more cost-effective than those traditional phone systems

Landline systems are expensive to maintain. Along with that, some of those features, like call queuing, call transfer, and phone directories must be paid separately. Plus, specialized technicians are required to install and maintain the network.


Hand pointing at desktop telephone

Should You Choose a POTS?

POTS have been around since the telephone’s early stages. In many cases, these systems are reliable, but it can be costly to maintain them. While these systems have adapted to modern changes, there are more secure and less expensive options on the market.

Do you need a modern solution to your organization’s cloud-based communication issues? Reach out to G12 Communications! We want to create a collaborative workplace with flexible communications.

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