Two Analog Technologies Still Used By Millions

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Here it is – 2014. Computers and microprocessors have taken over most anything we do. Everyday – we’re on the lookout for the next big thing. Is it software defined networking – or software defined something or other? Could be. The race is fast and furious and, it can be a challenge to keep up. For a lot us – it’s a ton of fun but…

Take a breath – and, let’s look at two technologies that haven’t changed much in 50 years – that are still used by millions – and, by all accounts – offer services/results that exceed their digital counterparts in quality.

The first – is the copper-delivered analog POTS phone lines. I still have one – and – conduct most of my business off it: and, for a very good reason – quality. I can’t stand doing business from a cell phone, much less – dialing a client who only uses one. Cell phone channels are compressed, re-compressed, compressed, re-compressed – so much so, we’ve sacrificed the experience of having a great phone conversation without listening stress – to phone calls – that are just plain annoying. Phone calls, the phone experience – should never be that way – yet we’ve all put up with it. They’re a chore. We’ve taken a huge step backward with technology. And, did you know – most radio or other professional media interviews – prefer POTS line interviews? Cell phone call-ins are the bane for talk radio. The quality is just not there. From the station side – every effort is being made to “up” the quality of these calls. For example – Telos, a major manufacturer of talk radio phone systems (VOIP) – is experimenting with codex’s that hopefully, will improve low-quality cell-phone calls. They’ve made some progress – but – POTS still blows it away.

Take this test – if you know someone with music on hold – listen to it on a POTS line, then, do the same with a cell phone. You can actually hear the musical tones with POTS, with cell – it’s all hashy, distorted and I dare say – sounds out of tune. It’s day and night. Interestingly – “HD” audio is coming to cell towers one day, but you’ll pay for it. And, hopefully, one day, it’ll perform near or at the POTS level. Yes, up to the old analog POTS level. As for the future – AT&T has fired-off the first salvo, and wants to do away with copper lines. Look out – POTS may disappear one day, but for now – I’ll hang on.

The other technology that stands the test of time is FM stereo. Frequency Modulation radio has been around since the 1930’s and, in 1961, the FCC approved FM stereo. Very little has changed – and today, analog FM stereo still rules. It’s simple technology – that, when compared to its digital HD-radio counterpart – sounds as good or better. By the way – “HD” digital radio is on its way out – at least in this country. It’s not working. To be fair – the only way to get digital radio launched in this country – was to provide “in band” service – whereby – the digital portion was imbedded in the existing analog signal. With FM, this instilled a problem with the signal because – it had to be attenuated. So the digital range or reach of the station was limited. But also – when you did an A/B test – there was no difference in audio quality and in fact, the digital “HD” signal – most of the time, sounded more processed and less natural.

So, today – analog FM radio rules. Millions and millions listen every day. Why? It delivers great high fidelity with reasonable noise rates – just as it did in 1961. And, it’s so simple – just turn on a radio. No need to wait for buffering and, no need to compete with streaming bandwidth – it’s always there.


Gary West

Historian Gary West built his first website in 1998 with That addressed now forwards to - an amazing pop culture/news database with 25,000 pages, covering the years 1955-2014. He's also the author of - covering consumer technology from 1952 to the present. West has been a contributor to numerous books, radio-TV shows, CNN & USA Today & the History Channel.

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