The big cut in the telephone network




In this article, we take a look at some of the key issues with the planned PSTN shutdown in 2025, the switch to VoIP, and the options businesses have for the future.

What is happening?

Last April, BT Openreach announced that from the end of this year (and until 2025) it will “cut the UK telephone network as we know it” by moving 15 million lines to a VoIP protocol ( Voice over Internet Protocol) based on an alternate telephone service. Essentially, this means that the Internet (broadband) will be used to carry telephone calls rather than traditional copper wires. Shutting down the UK’s traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) will also mean the end of ISDN, as it uses the copper wire telephone network. Additionally, BT Openreach will not accept new orders for PSTN and ISDN2 and ISDN30 services after September 2023.

Why?

As Ofcom noted, the old PSTN is coming to the end of its life and becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain, and Openreach may be looking to ditch the old copper network altogether, so that he will not have to pay to operate two parallel networks. In addition, there are now more modern alternatives that are compatible with the way we communicate today, i.e. mobile and internet communications. In general, some benefits for customers of switching to VoIP could include:

  • VoIP offers a greater range of capabilities.
  • Cost savings and fewer system failures and failures.
  • Scalability and portability (VoIP phone systems can go anywhere a business goes).

– Greater communication mobility, greater flexibility, as well as increased productivity and collaboration. The importance of this has been particularly well illustrated by the need to use cloud-based remote communications and collaborative work platforms during the pandemic.

  • Better security that is continuously updated.
  • Greater reliability.
  • Improved customer experiences.
  • Clearer calls, making it easier to keep existing numbers, and the choice of having broadband separated from telephone service.
  • Better identification and prevention of nuisance calls, saving businesses time and money and potentially protecting themselves against scammers.

Challenges and drawbacks

There are, however, some potentially serious drawbacks (for some customers / customer groups) to failover. These could include:

  • Potential latency issues.
  • Vulnerability to telephone systems that fail and cause (costly) business disruption in the event of broadband outage or interruption of electricity supply.
  • Older customers and / or customers in rural / underserved broadband areas may be at a disadvantage.
  • A lack of awareness in the market about the planned switchover, and a large number of small businesses in the UK still use traditional lines.

Not just phone lines, but downstream services as well

Ofcom and Openreach have recognized that a big concern, if preparations are not made sufficiently in advance of the switchover, is how downstream services will be affected. These include security and fire alarms, remote assistance and panic alarms devices, retail / EPOS payment terminals, and network monitoring and control equipment. Specifically, these downstream services rely on some attributes of the old copper PSTN that may not be fully replicated in VoIP platforms, hence the importance of proper preparation before the big switchover in 2025. This will force service providers to test their equipment. to see if it will continue to run on IP, then replace, upgrade, or reconfigure it as needed. These service provider companies will also need to ensure that customers (from residential users to large commercial entities and the public sector) are made aware of the problem well in advance so that the necessary measures can be taken to maintain the service (s). (s).

Ofcom said the government will work with sectors that use these downstream services (for example, health, energy, transport and business) so that they are aware of the change and can prepare in time.

Is BT pushing customers to switch to VoIP?

Some tech and communications (and small business IT and communications) commentators have noted that while BT raises awareness of the change in 2025, it also appears to be pushing businesses to ditch their PSTN lines and switch to BT’s VoIP solution. For example, as the register indicates, BT Wholesale Hosted Communications (WHC) Express now provides a digital telephone line for small businesses and a Broadband One package (fiber speeds up to 1 Gbps). These can be a way to help BT resellers and integrators get businesses to switch to BT now rather than waiting a little longer and looking around.

In July, as BT-owned Openreach increased the urgency by asking customers to audit their systems for devices that use PSTN, it also offered a “call waiting list”. This is an online subscription form for the Openreach newsletter which also asks who provides the phone line (s) and offers the ability to share personal information with their “trusted third parties” with regard to “Digital products and services”. While BT and the companies it owns have a real interest in making businesses aware of the need to prepare for the switchover, they can also help by letting businesses know that there are many other VoIP solution providers out there.

What are the alternatives ?

The old PTSN copper wires are essentially replaced by a fiber network. With the discontinuation of the old RTC and ISD, as it stands, the main alternatives for companies are:

  • SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), which uses cloud-based virtual phone lines rather than physical lines. This may be more appropriate for businesses with an on-site telephone system. Many existing telephone systems are already compatible with SIP.
  • Hosted VoIP / Hosted IP Phone System may be suitable for businesses that do not wish to commit or maintain an onsite phone system. Since this option uses the company’s Internet lines, this essentially means that the company is renting a telephone system.

What does this mean for your business?

While the move is industry-led, there’s no doubt that analog phone systems (and old, expensive to maintain) won’t be able to provide the range, flexibility, speed, capacity, and cost savings. digital alternatives, because businesses rely heavily on the Internet.

Provided there is adequate information and support provided by the regulator and BT Openreach, and coordination between communication service providers (CSPs), and adequate advice and support for downstream providers, then the change should be manageable and disruption should be minimized. Clearly, very careful attention, support and planning needs to be given to sectors and organizations, many of which are vital to UK business and infrastructure, which still depend on certain attributes of the PSTN which may not yet appear to be capable of being used. fully replicated in VoIP platforms.

Another important message here is that while this is a big change, and some test areas will be switched first, the switchover will generally be spread over four years. While it is important to audit systems and be prepared, businesses will have time to shop around and choose from a number of different vendors and solutions rather than feeling like they need to go immediately. for the first offers from major suppliers.

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