Did you know that in 2025 the PSTN and ISDN networks will be switched off for good?
What Is PSTN?
The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is the name given to the worldwide network of inter-connected underground cables used to carry voice traffic and allows users to make what is typically known as a 'landline call'. Originally the PSTN used copper wires to carry calls (and in many instances still does) and has been the traditional method of making telephone calls around the world since the late 1800s. In the United Kingdom BT operate and manage the PSTN.
What Is ISDN?
The Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) was introduced in the UK in 1985 as a way to carry both voice and data traffic over standard telephone lines. ISDN proved popular with businesses owing to its ability to make faster calls and with its ability to carry data. It is estimated that there are still over 2 million ISDN users in the UK.
The Big Switch Off
Whilst it is true that a lot of the copper cables used by the PSTN have been replaced over time by modern fibre optic cables, the PSTN and ISDN networks are still legacy networks which require ongoing maintenance. It therefore makes sense for telecoms operators to transition customers from analogue PSTN to digital, all-fibre telephone and internet services.
BT has understandably made the commercial decision to switch off the PSTN and ISDN networks in 2025. Whilst the actual date has not yet been agreed, what is important to note is that from 2020 BT will no longer allow new ISDN lines to be ordered. There have, however, been recent calls to extend this 2020 deadline to 2023 in order to allow businesses more time to adapt.
What Will This Mean For Your Business?
If you are reading this article in 2019, 2025 probably seems like such a long time away and not something which requires your immediate attention. If your business is a light user of voice and data and doesn't have many ISDN lines at your premises then this is probably correct and something you can probably leave until a few years closer to the switch off.
A lot of businesses, however, rely heavily on ISDN lines and should they wish to add new lines for either a new location, new staff or enhance/upgrade their computer networks there is a very real risk that when BT decide to stop taking orders for new lines that this could seriously hamper their plans.
Whether this happens in 2020 or if lobbying groups succeed and get it extended to 2023, this is a very real risk for UK businesses and one that should be reviewed before it is too late.
Is VOIP The Answer?
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), or IP Telephony as it is sometimes called, is a method of sending voice traffic over the public internet rather than the PSTN. This opens up a lot of additional benefits and allows modern communications technologies (telephones, smartphones, voice, video conferencing and email) to be consolidated using a single system. Managing your overall communications needs in this manner is often referred to as Unified Communications.
Businesses may have moved some of their telecoms over to VOIP already, however, the fundamental premise is that if your business currently has ISDN lines in use or you access the PSTN for calls, you will need a plan of action to migrate over to a fully digital solution.
To be completely honest ISDN is quite an expensive yet limited technology. It takes time for new lines to be installed, it utilises old technology (which was first introduced in 1985) and has geographic limitations. A VOIP solution in comparison is much more flexible and so much simpler to add, remove or split lines. VOIP often saves businesses money owing to the removal of traditional line rental charges, it has much higher levels of resilience and provides a lot more control for users.
Most users who transition over to VOIP report much higher efficiencies, better productivity along with much better collaboration amongst staff.
What Do You Need To Do?
To help businesses decide what their next steps should be, we have prepared a short checklist below to help guide you as you decide on the best way to transition your business over to a modern, digital solution.
What Is You Current Set Up?
The first step for any business considering the move from ISDN/PSTN is to understand how they currently access their telecoms and internet services. By understanding your existing infrastructure and mapping out your needs for the future you will be much better placed to make the right decisions in the future.
Review Existing Contracts
Once you have established the number of ISDN lines currently in use along with your future connectivity requirements, it is important to look at your existing contracts to establish when they will come up for renewal. This could be an ideal time to make the switch plus it is essential that you don't end up auto-renewing and find that your hands are tied until much closer to the switch off date. Make sure you don't get locked in and find out that your options are limited.
What Type Of System Do You Want/Need?
Whilst the PSTN and ISDN will disappear, it will still be possible to have an on-premise solution utilising PBX/SIP Trunks. If your business requirements demand that you have physical access to your own equipment or you are not yet ready to move to the Cloud this could be a useful solution for your business.
On the other hand, many businesses are using the Switch Off to transition their business connectivity needs to the Cloud in order to make use of much more advanced features whilst receiving a fully hosted and managed solution at the same time. Systems such as Vodafone's One Net could be a great option for your business to consider.
What Is Your Internet Connection Like?
It is very easy to talk about all the wonderful benefits available when moving over to a modern digital system, however, it is also important to review whether or not your internet connection can cope with all this new traffic.
Did you know the UK Government has introduced the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme to provide up to £2,500 support for businesses in the UK to upgrade their broadband connection to a 1Gbps connection? You can find out more about this scheme here: "What Is The Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme?"
Can Your Telephone Hardware Be Upgraded?
Depending on the systems you have in place, the telephone hardware in your office may be able to be converted into an IP telephone and be able to handle VOIP calls. If not, you will need to upgrade all your telephones (and any associated equipment) to IP Telephones. Most operators will include handsets as part of their deal depending on the size and scale of your operations, however, it would be worthwhile trying to establish how much of your existing estate can be used.
No matter which way you look at it the ISDN and PSTN networks are being switched off in 2025 and all of the UK's voice traffic will need to be carried over the public internet. Whilst there may not be any immediate desire to start transitioning your business over to a fully digital solution, the fact that orders for new ISDN lines will cease much sooner than 2025 means that most progressive businesses are currently looking at what they need to do.
The benefit of reviewing your businesses connectivity needs now means that any changes can be made gradually and with much less impact for your customers and staff. If you act now you will have the time to review your options and make the best possible decision for your businesses future success.
Whilst it may not seem like it right now, the "ISDN Switch Off" provides businesses with the perfect opportunity to examine how they can exploit the new technologies available through better business connectivity. Unified Communications is becoming more and more mainstream and is available for business of all sizes to manage their connectivity needs in one simple, easy to manage solution.
In view of this we have prepared "The Guide To Better Business Connectivity" to help UK business owners know what options are available to them and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
At Connect Total we believe in businesses having the right information available so that they can make informed decisions about their future success. Connectivity is now such a critical link in a businesses future success that we believe UK businesses should know how they can exploit these new technologies better. Download a copy of the guide to Better Business Connectivity here.
If you would like to discuss how the ISDN Switch Off could affect your business and learn more about the options available for your business, please get in touch with our experienced business advisors who will listen to your requirements and outline a range of options for your business to consider.