S'cuse me, but you've got your FIOS in my analog.
May 12, 2014 7:12 PM   Subscribe

When telephone companies replace copper analog phone lines with FIOS, what happens to what was supposed to be analog function?

I work for a company that sells captioned telephones for people with hearing loss. I assist customers with first time set-ups and I help them troubleshoot network and telephone line issues, and I just generally make things right so the customer's captioned telephone will show them the captions. Customers with hearing impairments generally get treated like shit by telephone companies -no singling any one out, it's true for all of them. When I have a strong gut feeling that a customer is being fed a line by a telephone company I do my very best to act on the customer's behalf to make sure the phone company tests the line and tells the truth about the results, repairs the line if they find trouble on it, whatever they have to do to make sure the phone line is clean and happy. We have a variety of different phone models - some models use internet/Ethernet/WiFi. Some of the models are analog and can only function optimally on copper analog or properly-filtered DSL lines. I've been working with a customer- one of very, very many who I think are being fed a line by their phone companies and am interested in understanding telephone lines better. That's the background.

Here's specifically what I'm wondering:
1. How are FIOS lines the same as copper analog lines and how are they different?
2. Is it true that there are two kinds of FIOS: "normal" and "digital"? What's the dif?
3. Let's say a person has a pacemaker that is monitored across analog telephone lines and the telephone company sneaks in an replaces that analog with "regular" FIOS. Will the pacemaker continued to be properly monitored over that FIOS line?
4. (optional) Why are so many telephone company customer service/tech employees such lying liars?

As determined as I am to assist my customers I'm not DEEPdeep into telephone network jargon ~ bonus points for easy-to-understand explanations.
posted by mcbeth to Technology (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1. They are the same in that they are offered by the "phone company." That's pretty much it.

2. FIOS, by nature, is digital. It works by pulsing light down a fiber optic cable. The pattern of those light pulses makes up the 0s and 1s of a digital signal. There's no analog component to the technology at all. It's possible they have run fiber optic through the street and are still using copper to the home, which is what they are calling "analog" fiber. But the translation between the analog signal leaving your home into the digital signal running down the street won't be perfect (like how fax machines and VOIP never used to work on broadband phone service until providers tuned the digital compression schemes).

3. Fiber optic cable is super expensive to run - which is why you typically only see it rolled out in urban or densly-populated suburban areas. And even then, running the fiber from the street to the individual house or apartment is another added expense. Unless the customer signs up for digital TV and/or broadband, they probably won't "sneak in" and replace the existing copper line to the home. (caveat- if the copper infrastructure is falling apart and a full repair/replacement is more expensive than rolling out fiber, they could theoretically force a full-scale transition). If they are only running fiber in the street, then it's possible they made a switch without telling the customers since they won't see a customer-facing change in hardware at the home.

4. They are trained never to say "I don't know" - so if they don't have the answer, they make up something that seems plausible (to them) so they can get you off the line and maintain their turnover rate.

I'm sure you know this already - but if you feel like you're getting fed a line of BS, just escalate to the next support tier and don't take no for an answer. Also (if you don't already), try twitter or other social media options to get knowledgeable techs to answer your questions.
posted by trivia genius at 7:47 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. They are similar in that the customer plugs a regular old telephone into a socket, and from that point there is some distance of copper wire, followed by a box which converts to digital.
With an analog line, you'll have copper wire all the way from your house to some telephone exchange, and at that point the signal will be converted to digital data for transmission across the country (or whatever). The backbones--the major connections between cities, etc.--are all digital.
With FIOS the signal is converted to digital in the FIOS box inside your house, then sent over a (digital) fiber-optic line to the exchange. So the conversion ultimately happens closer to the endpoints.
But it's not just a straight tradeoff, there are drawbacks. The sound quality over FIOS will be noticeably worse. Also, an analog phone line does not require any power supply at the customer's end, whereas FIOS service will go out if you lose power. However they are supposed to supply a battery which will allegedly keep the service on for X hours without power.

2. Not true at all.
3. I would hope that a pacemaker monitoring service would notice if it got disconnected but I have not even the first idea how those work. It's definitely conceivable that the lower FIOS sound quality might not be enough to keep a good connection, but again, I have no idea what kind of quality is required.
4. Phone companies have achieved total regulatory capture so they have no reason to be honest, or to educate their sales reps.
posted by equalpants at 7:56 PM on May 12, 2014

When my neighborhood was wired with FIOS, they didn't remove the copper. The fiber was simply added to the existing network.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:28 PM on May 12, 2014

There are two types of telephone service delivered via FiOS: The first is just called "FiOS Telephone" or something similar. It is Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) in every sense of the word, except that the digital-to-analog conversion happens a lot closer to the subscriber. It walks, talks, and acts identical to copper telephone service and is still a regulated service with uptime requirements. Dial tone is generated at the Central Office (main switching terminal for the phone company) and shoved down a "virtual" copper interface.

The second is called FiOS Digital Voice. It is functionally identical to Vonage, MagicJack, and their kin. Dial tone is generated on the FiOS box itself and the audio is converted into data at the FiOS box. All this will get you is voice; nothing fancy will work over it.

Much longer technical explanation: Fiber optic service is, essentially, multi-colored lights flashing down a very long strand of glass. In FiOS, data service rides one "color" (or wavelength) of light. Video is a regular copper/coax service that is encoded into light on another "color" and fed down the same strand of glass. FiOS Telephone-that-isn't-called-Digital-Voice is another copper service that is encoded into light on a third "color" of light. All of this encoding into light is decoded by the FiOS ONT (optical network terminal) and turned back into analog copper at the subscriber's end. Because of how this all works, the video and telephone services are functionally identical to the same service being delivered via long stretches of actual copper, just with very little signal loss and virtually no chance for interference.

FiOS Digital Voice uses the data service being fed by the first "color" of light. It's similar to plugging a Vonage box into your router and giving it a go. Because of this, Digital Voice only provides voice service; it has no way of knowing how to do things like caption encoding.

Due to all of this new shiny technology, your mileage may vary. For instance, DSL does not work over FiOS Telephone because the "analog equivalent" service doesn't handle the frequencies used by DSL.

posted by fireoyster at 4:11 AM on May 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Will a fax machine work on a FIOS line?

Over and over I've assisted customers whose captions have become mucked up, the audio quality can suffer too but esp. if a person relies on the text to understand the person on the other end of the line they really need to have constant non-garbled captions, and the garbling seems to go hand-in-hand, almost universally, with a telephone line with digital anythings on it. I lose my noodles when I have to talk to five people during one call to get a straight answer, and they each say something different about what the customer has.

Maybe what I'm trying to figure out here is how to address telcos more directly so we can just completely cut through the crap and just get from a straightforward question to an accurate answer. If this phone functions like a fax machine and a fax machine won't work on a FIOS or any other analog equivalent should I maybe just ask "can this type of telephone line support a fax transmission?"
posted by mcbeth at 2:49 PM on May 17, 2014

How exactly does the voice captioning system work? What is it sending down the wire? That's really the most important thing you need to know for determining whether it will work over FIOS (or voip).
posted by empath at 7:18 PM on June 4, 2014

The issue with sending non voice data over a voip channel is that voip uses compression, and the compression algorithms are lossy -- it tosses out stuff you can't hear, which absolutely wrecks data transmissions being sent over the channel, which is why fax needs a special protocol (t38) to send over a digital channel.

Modems also will not work over voip for the same reason. Basically, if your system is sending data over an analog channel, its days are numbered, technically. Everything is voip on the backend these days and there is very little support for analog data transmission other than fax.
posted by empath at 7:21 PM on June 4, 2014

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