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Grim Reaper starts coming for fax machines, pagers, landlines

Hand picking up a telephone landline

The end is near for a bunch of old telecommunications tech in China. On Monday, the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) announced that as of March 1, it would no longer issue permits for fax machines, pagers, or integrated services digital network (ISDN) terminals to access Chinese networks.

The announcement, spotted by The Register, also applies to “fixed telephone terminals, cordless telephone terminals, [and] group telephones,” as well as modems, “multimedia terminals connected to mobile communication networks,” and “frame relay for 11 types of telecommunications equipment,” including switches and call center equipment, per a Google translation.

While existing products will still be able to connect to Chinese networks, the country will not issue permits for new products that rely on these dated technologies.

As a result, the MIIT should be able to focus its time on certifying more modern technologies. Its announcement pointed to a wait time of just 15 days.

With a large geography no longer accepting new members in these tech categories, you can expect vendors to move away from updating such products while continuing to sell legacy ones that already exist.

In the US, we still see people, like health care workers, relying on beepers, while plenty of homes (including those with poor cell service) still have landlines, and I can tell you exactly where my parents keep their fax machine. Whether concerned about security, record-keeping, or managing a tight budget as a small business, there’s still use for much of the aging tech that China will no longer certify.

While users of these old-school technologies won’t feel the impact immediately, a global power shifting away from the likes of landlines and beepers is an early signal of their eventual end elsewhere. For instance, in January, the United Kingdom’s Office of Communications said “farewell to the fax machine” and made it so that telecom providers are no longer required to offer fax services under the UK’s universal service obligation (which still applies to affordable phone service).

Despite a user base ranging from doctors to Luddites, such legislation lessens interest for vendors to focus on these aging products. No, landlines won’t be torn out of homes or removed from all retailers, but as of March 1, there will be a significantly lower incentive to update these offerings. So while people will still use things like landlines and pagers for years, don’t expect these technologies to see any exciting advancements.

And here I was, hoping for a fax machine with a 4K OLED screen.

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