'Lifelines' Matter on More Than That TV Show

FRAMINGHAM (01/31/2000) - During the wildly popular TV game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" host Regis Philbin often asks contestants: "Would you like to use one of your lifelines?"

As watchers of that show know, one lifeline option is to phone a friend.

If you are a network manager considering the deployment of a converged network, you have probably already asked your service provider and equipment vendor if you can phone a friend, but what you really should be asking is: "Can I dial 9-1-1?"

The ability to call a number, such as an emergency number, even when the power in your building or telecom equipment (such as a PBX) is down, is called "lifeline service." Most take it for granted and assume phone service will always be there. What most network managers do not understand is that with a converged network that utilizes a data network and perhaps data equipment for voice service, you may not be getting lifeline service as part of the standard package.

This lifeline issue is present in almost all variations of convergence services: LAN-based equipment such as IP PBXs, voice-enabled routers, and media gateways; as well as converged access services such as voice over digital subscriber line, voice over cable and even some integrated access technologies using DS-1 lines.

So if you are thinking about deploying a converged network, consider these options for lifeline service. Just like the game show, you have three options:

Lifeline 1: You can decide not to subscribe to a lifeline service. Beware, however, that if an emergency occurs and employees cannot contact an emergency number, you will need to be a winner on "Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?" in order to pay off the lawsuits. Another variation on this option is simply to assume employees have access to a cellular phone, or you can provide one for such situations.

Lifeline 2: Subscribe to a separate traditional plain old telephone service (POTS) and dedicate a phone in the lobby as the emergency phone. This is rather easy and relatively inexpensive, but it really doesn't move you much closer to a converged network. If you are in a large building, you may need a different POTS line and phone for each floor.

Lifeline 3: You can (or soon will be able to) order some special services from your service provider that will address the lifeline issue across the converged access line. For now, assume this option is not available (or is very limited).

As convergence technology and services become more robust, the lifeline issue will likely disappear or lifeline features will become standard, as they are under most traditional business phone services.

Briere is president and Heckart is vice president of TeleChoice Inc., a consultancy in Boston. They can be reached at dbriere@telechoice.com and checkart@telechoice.com.

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