ISDN: Are you sitting on a burning platform?

Your phone system is about to go through a digital switch over. Are you sat on a burning platform?

Your phones are going to get cut off and the time to act is now.

To be fair, BT haven’t particularly promoted this news but it’s a fact. The UK’s PSTN (public switched telephone network) will be shut down in 2025.

As the broadband service has increased in reliability and quality over the years, the PSTN has had to evolve to handle a largely digital network, and as such there will not be the requirement for traditional telephony and fixed lines with a move to voice running over digital channels allowing Openreach to focus on the fibre rollout.

It gets a little more worrying when you realise that the old network currently runs office phones, home phones, burglar alarms, fire alarms, emergency phones in lifts, panic alarms, CCTV, telecare pendants and care and assisted living technology.

The impact on Housing Associations is going to be massive, so the sooner you start planning for it, the easier it will be. If you leave it to the last minute then, like all things, you will join a long queue for services that are in demand from people who have simply left it too late. I don’t want to panic you but you really need to evaluate this risk quite urgently and size up the task at hand.

So what’s going on?

The most significant part of the existing network to go are the phone lines themselves. By 2025, your phone will need to be digital and will use a low capacity internet connection to deliver and receive phone calls over the internet. This is called VoIP voice over IP. IP is the Internet Protocol and is used to transmit communications across the internet’s network. This will break all existing phones, office based phone systems and facilities that currently use the legacy PSTN and ISDN networks.

What services will be affected?

The mainstream voice services affected will be WLR (Wholesale Line Rental), ISDN2 and ISDN30.

The connectivity products that will be affected are ADSL Broadband and FTTC Broadband which will not be able to function due to the retirement of the WLR which underpins what the services run over.

Home phones

Domestic landline use has fallen in recent years. Landlines tend to be used exclusively for their broadband connection and use their mobile with an unlimited call bundle the rest of the time. Many people make extensive use of social media, WhatsApp, Signal, Facebook and even text messages these days rather than talking to each other.

However, millions of people do have a phone connected to their PSTN line and indeed millions of PSTN phones are still used by businesses up and down UK. The digital switch over means that we need to take action now to avoid outages.

Domestically, the situation is not so dire. Broadband providers will either provide analogue adaptors so you can plug your existing phone into the adaptor and then plug this into the back of your broadband router. Other broadband providers will simply send you a digital wireless phone which works in tandem with your broadband router – DECT (Digitally enhanced cordless telecommunications).

For the smaller minority of customers who don’t have broadband already, they will be able to purchase a cheap low capacity broadband connection purely for voice services. All of this will continue to use the same copper cable coming into the property that provides PSTN at the moment.

It does pay to be ahead of the game and move to digital as soon as you can.

Business Phones

But what about business phones – will it be as straight forward as this? According to Statistica there are about 30 million PSTN phone lines in the UK that will be impacted by the digital switch over.

Many businesses still rely on PSTN lines and ISDN2/ISDN30 lines which are all being switched off by 2025.

So , the key priority for business right now is to bring forward their retirement of PSTN lines and replace the ISDN connections used for the office based phone system to SIP (digital Session Initiation Protocol) if you haven’t done so already, or to a fully hosted telephony solution.

30 million phone lines is going to take some time to get through!

Business use of PSTN

Many housing associations use older PSTN lines for smaller offices, scheme offices, panic alarms, telecare lifeline services, emergency phones in lifts, CCTV and all sorts of special equipment.

So PSTN is a big deal and I would recommend blending the digital switchover projects with the contractual renewal or replacement of the active equipment that are plugged into these PSTN lines.

Your use of PSTN should not be underestimated. If the switch over to digital is combined with contract renewals and equipment refresh cycles then time is of the essence as large scale procurement activity and commissioning projects can easily take some time to complete. And this work often competes with a busy schedule. Let’s be honest, most organisations don’t have spare finance and resources sat on the bench waiting for this sort of thing to come along so effective planning is essential!

Quite frankly the PSTN lines will cause the biggest headache and will represent the largest upheaval.

Business use of ISDN

So most businesses today have a device called a PBX (private branch exchange) which is a device located in their computer room. Business phones connect into the PBX where call routing takes place. The PBX connects internal calls to each other, delivers inbound calls and directs outbound calls.

The PBX needs a way to connect to the national and global telecommunications network so that calls can be connected to the outside world. This has historically been achieved using a technology called ISDN. In addition to PSTN, ISDN is being turned off too so you will need an alternative.

The alternative is a technology called SIP. SIP is a communication protocol used in voice over IP products. Essentially SIP is the replacement for ISDN.

If you still use ISDN then you need to plan to replace it with SIP lines asap. SIP is a mature technology and many organisations have already migrated to it retiring their ISDN services in the process.

And the good news keeps coming as SIP line rentals are usually around half the price of ISDN and they come with a bundled inclusive call allowance for calls to mobiles and landlines. So you save money twice. Once on monthly line rental and secondly on call costs which are now bundled in.

What else do I need to know

Many organisations are combining their ISDN to SIP migration projects with a wider project to move their legacy on-premise PBX to the cloud. This lends itself to new hybrid ways of working, is more cost effective and sustainable.

Many customers have traditionally invested significant sums in running their own on-premise phone systems from companies like Cisco, Avaya, Mitel etc.

However, the cost advantages, resilience and reliability of using SIP, cloud voice and cloud contact centre platforms offer compelling benefits which are prompting forward thinking leaders to merge SIP, cloud voice and cloud contact centre refresh activities into a single unified programme.

This approach enables enhanced strategies for customer service that combine multiple customer contact channels into a highly integrated unified communications experience. This translates to increased customer satisfaction, lower operational costs and enhance business resilience & business continuity.

So when you consider all of this in the round, it the digital switch over will be a little disruptive but the pain will be worth it at the end of the day.