Voice communications are still a big part of how many firms operate. Despite big pushes over the last few years among many enterprises to encourage customers to get in touch via web chat or social media, sometimes there’s no substitute for simply picking up the phone and speaking to a real person.
But the way businesses access these services is set for a major change in the coming years, as infrastructure firm Openreach will be switching off some of the key networks that many businesses depend upon.
The group is removing a number of analogue-based services, but for many firms, the most significant will be the withdrawal of the ISDN2 and ISDN30 products. These services are likely to be the backbone of many businesses’ communications networks, so it’s vital you have a plan to replace these solutions with more modern telephony solutions well in advance of the switch-off.
When is the ISDN Switch-Off taking place and why?
The key date you need to keep in mind is 2025. At the end of that year, Openreach will switch off the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) that supports these ISDN services. However, in preparation for this, products that depend on this network will be withdrawn from the market by September 2023.
The main reason behind this is the PSTN is now a very outdated system. Many of its components have been in place for years and it’s becoming increasingly complex and expensive to maintain and repair them.
Indeed, Openreach notes it is getting harder to obtain the necessary spares to keep the network in working order, as many of these items are no longer manufactured. At the same time, a skills gap is emerging as many of the engineers with the knowledge to carry out this work are retiring. Therefore, Openreach has determined the time is right to leave these technologies in the past and move forward to a digital-focused future.
The move to a fully digital communications network in the UK may be seen as long overdue. Indeed, many of our European neighbours are already much further down the road to a digital future, with France scheduled to complete its migration by the end of 2020, and Germany already having switched off analogue networks at the end of 2018.
A digital-first environment should not only be more reliable than existing copper-based lines but will create a range of new opportunities for businesses to access more advanced features and support more specialist services.
The risks of failing to prepare
This is not the first time the UK has undergone a significant switchover to digital services. In a recent interview with The Register, Openreach head of copper and service products James Lilley likened the scale of the project to the move away from analogue TV in 2007.
However, while that migration was backed by millions of pounds of government funding and a huge public awareness campaign, the ISDN switch-off is expected to be industry-led – and many businesses still remain unaware that it is even coming, let alone what they need to do about it.
While 2025 may seem like a long way away, it will be here faster than many businesses think. As migrating to a new telephony system will take time, with firms needing to evaluate the possible options and go through the process itself, the later you leave it, the worse off you’ll be.
“It’s about to get quite real with a lot of this stuff,” Mr Lilley said. “We are really trying to get the message out there … we’ve made good progress but we’re not there yet, as we’re still coming across [people] who are hearing this for the first time.”
For an idea of what can happen if firms don’t act quickly, we can look to Germany, which switched off its own analogue phone network at the end of last year. However, many users were not aware of this until the last minute, which resulted in ‘ISDN panic’ as they scrambled to replace their systems.
Making such an important decision under these time pressures can lead to firms failing to evaluate their options properly and selecting options that don’t meet their needs, costing them time and money for years to come. It’s only by acting early that you can avoid this risk and ensure your firm’s communication systems are fit for a digital-only future.