Telephones after y2k : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Will someone explain, in laymans terms, if the telephones will work after y2k? If telephones work during a power outage, they cannot be dependant on the electrical system, or are they?

-- Bill Solorzano (, May 04, 1998


no they will be fine. go back to sleep and don't worry your silly little head about these things. Everybody knows that the little phone fairy will keep the phone on for you when the rest of the world goes in to a downturn. enough sarcasm!!! ok THINK REAL HARD !!! if there is a power outage caused by Y2K what makes you think that there wont be a phone outage due to the same thing? PEOPLE need to think ,that this is not about just one thing having problems its about millions of things having problems , there is a ripple effect that very few of us have a grasp on. Look deeper than you have and you will see that its not a pretty picture.

-- Ronald C Cash (, May 04, 1998.

My question was meant for someone to explain the relationship between electrical power outages and telephone outages. Will there be time to make phone calls when the grids go down? Even Rick Cowles (see his web page) does not think that there will be an enormous switch that will click off at midnight 12/31/99. (no sermons please)

-- Bill Solorzano (, May 04, 1998.

It is my understanding that the phone companies have huge batter banks that are intended to keep the phone sysetm alive across short-term power outages. The problem comes when the power outages are long-term. Sooner or later, the batteries have to be re-charged, and if there is no electricity on the grid the power to re-charge the batteries will be gone with the last of the diesel or propane or whatever is used to power the stand by generators.

It is my opinion, now, that power outages will be long term in all locations where electricity is not generated by hydro power. I hope I am wrong.

-- George Valentine (, May 04, 1998.

Almost all phones systems use electrical switches now - there maybe a few small ones in extremely rural areas that use the old mechanical switches, but I doubt it. Yes they have battery/generator backups for short term, but even if the electricity stays up, they MAY have a problem. When you dial a phone number there is an enormous amount of data that is passed ahead of the phone connection including the date and time. If this is a date that is not recognized by the switch, the phone call cannot go through OR if it does, the mainframe keeping track of these calls, spits up. Now this assumes using all one phone company - what happens when this data is passed across several switch systems which is actually more normal? I don't honestly know, but I would bet it not working. I know just enough about telecommunications to be dangerous and I'm not betting on all of the phone companies becoming compliant or even agreeing on how to implement Y2k. I would think that it might be like the power grid in that one non-compliant company passing bad data could take most, if not all, of the rest down.

-- Rebecca Kutcher (, May 04, 1998.

Rebecca, you're on track.

Phone companies know that they have to survive power outages, both short ones and much longer ones such as a hurricane or a war might cause. They have battery back-up for short-term, diesel generation for longer term. Unless you really believe that diesel will cease to be obtainable, power for the telephone systems is not the problem.

The big problem is that today, a telephone network is to all intents and purposes a vast and complex computer data network. At all but the smallest and oldest exchanges, your speech is converted to a stream of binary digits and routed as data to the other end; chances are it becomes an analogue signal again only at the end of the callee's line. If any of the computers doing the work suffers a Y2K failure there will be trouble. If enough of them go badly enough wrong, there may be a complete or locally-complete network failure.

A while ago some software changes were put into production that had passed all their tests, but were disastrous for most phone customers affected (most of the USA eastern seaboard if memory serves!) This was not a year-2000 issue and was fixable within a short time by reinstating the old code, but it serves to illustrate that the problem is real. Note with Y2K, there is no old-good code to reinstate!

The key issue, is what degree of exposure to Y2K do the telephone switching systems have? It's the embedded systems problem. You may wonder why there's any date-awareness, but billing logs and traffic pattern analysis/adaptation require some such, and in any case its possibe for Y2K to crash some (hopefully rare) systems even if they don't need to know the date at all.

Trouble there will be. How bad and for how long, I don't have the necessary industry knowledge to even begin to guess.

-- Nigel Arnot (, May 05, 1998.

Only prank calls will work after Y2K. Actually that is all there will be, prank calls that is.

-- Dennis Fusaro (, May 07, 1998.

ok where are these big generators located , i have to see this !

-- Ronald C Cash (, May 07, 1998.

I only know the answer for the UK, and that is that they are in the telephone exchange buildings. They don't need to be particularly big, a phone exchange doesn't use a lot of power (compared to, say, a hospital)

-- Nigel Arnot (, May 07, 1998.

Briefly - Local and long-distance service is at risk because most switches are controlled by processors (stored process control) and are subject to Y2k crashing. The major service providers (AT&T, SPRINT, MCI, Baby Bells, GTE) have scheduled upgrades for their respective networks, and should be ok. Other countries will have system-wide outages because of their failure to upgrade.

Power - Yes, everything in the telco net is supported by battery back-up and with diesel generators. HOWEVER, in the event of a widespread power outage (e.g., total, multi-state failures) there would be a shortage of generators. Also, generators in unmanned locations tend to 'disappear' during emergencies. In the event of such major power outages extending beyond days, only critical locations (military, police, fire, etc.) could be provided service.

PBXs - PBXs are usually customer owned. Many types are subject to Y2k failure. There will be many corporations without telecommunications because of the failure of their own equipment.

-- Tom Carr (, May 26, 1998.

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