Definition

PSTN (public switched telephone network)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Unified communications technology basics
Contributor(s): Carol Lin

PSTN (public switched telephone network) is the world's collection of interconnected voice-oriented public telephone networks, both commercial and government-owned. It's also referred to as the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS). It's the aggregation of circuit-switching telephone networks that has evolved from the days of Alexander Graham Bell ("Doctor Watson, come here!"). Today, it is almost entirely digital in technology except for the final link from the central (local) telephone office to the user. 

In relation to the Internet, the PSTN actually furnishes much of the Internet's long-distance infrastructure. Because Internet service providers ISPs pay the long-distance providers for access to their infrastructure and share the circuits among many users through packet-switching, Internet users avoid having to pay usage tolls to anyone other than their ISPs.

This was last updated in September 2005

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