The Secretary Magazine

Communications shakeup is on the way

In 2025, BT will switch off its Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network(ISDN) services. This change will affect all residential and business customers and aligns with the Government’s promise to see 15 million fibre-connected premises by 2025.

For businesses, it will not only mean that your phone services are affected but also services that run on your phone lines using the PSTN network. This will include EPOS machines, alarm monitoring services, fire monitoring services, and lift emergency phones.

Although PSTN has been the backbone of the UK’s phone network for decades, things are moving on, and it is increasingly out of step with the demands of modern communications. We’ve all seen dramatic changes in technology over the past few years.

We all demand much more now than the traditional technologies were designed to deliver, such as video conferencing and remote access, which is why the UK is switching to IP in line with networks globally.

The switch to digital is happening everywhere. Phone companies across the world are moving from analogue to digital.

France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, Slovakia, Macedonia and Sweden are ahead of us in making the shift. Estonia and The Netherlands are also there and have switched off their PSTN networks. Orange did away with ISDN in 2020, and when we finally say goodbye, we will be one of the last European countries to leave the standard behind. Technology has evolved significantly, and the PSTN network has become outdated and costly to maintain.

Of course, the retirement of the telephone network, as we know it, would not happen if there was no new technology to replace it. Telephone systems have been developed over the last several years to use IP. This allows telephone systems to use standard Internet connections.

Many businesses have already adopted a digital model, moving their communications to the cloud, making online calls and embracing video conferencing. If you have the supporting infrastructure, then there is no reason why an educated and planned migration to digital lines cannot be considered now.

Openreach, the company in charge of the UK’s digital network, has been installing fibre wire for the last decade, expanding the country’s broadband service and providing faster, less expensive and more reliable communications. Fewer and fewer people are using the old analogue system, and maintaining this copper network has become prohibitively expensive. As a result, the government has decided to phase out PSTN by 2025.

Although the transition deadline is 2025, Openreach has promised to stop selling its WLR, or wholesale line rental, by September 2023. This means new consumers will not have PSTN access, although line transfers for current customers will be permitted. The big question is whether Openreach will be able to meet the 2025 completion deadline. The process is underway, however, so for UK citizens, broadband is the future, no matter when the switch is completed.

Although VoIP services offer consumers and businesses many advantages, the switch does come with some challenges. The PSTN system is deeply ingrained in UK life, and rightfully so. It has been a reliable service for over a century and provides a comforting backup to VoIP and mobile phones.

The transition to VoIP will only affect the efficiency of emergency services. PSTN calls are still functional when a home or business loses power, or its fibre wire is cut. These landline services prove to be a powerful backup to IP communications. Once that backup is removed, people needing emergency services might be unable to reach them in certain rare circumstances.

To combat this issue, the UK’s telecom regulator has mandated that service providers have a plan to provide one hour of backup service in case of an emergency disruption. This “backup window” gives service providers time to correct outages without harming customers.

The change will affect other services as well. UK utility providers depend on PSTN to collect remote data, analyse system issues, and enact supervisory controls. Also, burglar alarms, point-of-sale card machinery and other devices still use PSTN technology. That means the companies must take steps now to find alternative solutions for these communication items, a potentially confusing and expensive process.

Experts agree that VoIP is the best choice in the future as long as providers create reliable procedures, call authentication systems and other necessary safeguards. And the success of the UK venture doesn’t just affect its citizens. A successful transition from PSTN to VoIP services could make other countries revisit how telephony infrastructure should be revamped for the future.

If you start thinking about these options now, you won’t be caught out when the switch-off happens. And if you can update your network earlier than 2025, you can benefit from faster, more reliable technology sooner.

That’s the big bonus: although it might feel like a problem you don’t need right now, the technology that will replace ISDN/PSTN can make your business more productive, efficient and cost-effective. You need to choose the most suitable replacement.

Ultimately, there are solid reasons for switching sooner rather than later. Early adopters will ensure their businesses have enough time and resources to research their options and invest in the right solutions thoroughly. Every organisation will be in a different position as they approach the switch to all-IP. Still, the industry has seen more accelerated digital adoption in the past few months than in the past few years, and so many opportunities are ahead.

Businesses will immediately benefit from a more sustainable system by moving away from outdated landlines. As companies seek ways to reduce CO2 emissions and contribute to a more sustainable future, choosing a VoIP-based solution is a clear choice. Less energy is required to power them – compared to PSTN phone lines that greatly rely on old, analogue phone lines. It is a resource-intensive and inherently difficult line to produce, leaving a huge carbon footprint.