By the time the PSTN network is switched off in 2025, even more voice and communications services options will be available – but there are real benefits to be gained by switching to hosted voice right away
You may have picked up on reports in recent months that BT is starting to run trials of its Digital Voice service. This will, eventually, replace the existing PSTN analogue service that most businesses and consumers have been using for landline voice services up to now. PSTN is due to be switched off in 2025, so while there is no mad rush to switch over to an IP-based voice service, there is also no point in delaying. There are real benefits to be gained immediately.
However, with so many services and options available, it can be a little confusing for SMBs to decide what they should do. It helps to understand how we got to where we are today, and how will get from this point to where we expect to be in 2025. To do that, we need to go back to the fundamentals of broadband.
It has always been the case that you have had to have a landline to have broadband. The original copper network that was constructed to carry voice calls was also the conduit for digital data – and the assumption from the outset was that you’d want a voice service as well as broadband. In essence, broadband – or ADSL as it was also known – was designed and built on top of the voice network. When broadband was first rolled out in the late 1990s, this made perfect make sense. Pretty much everyone still used landlines for most of their voice calls. Mobile phones were not as ubiquitous or affordable, so it was cheaper to call on the fixed line, and people were used to doing that.
That soon started to change of course, especially in the domestic market. But landlines were still very important for businesses and that remains the case today. No business or organisation that has more than two or three people can conceivably run off mobiles alone; it needs to have a central number that people know they can call when they need to get in touch with someone from the company. Equally, the business needs to keep centralised control of calls and the costs it incurs.
This is one of the reasons that hosted VoIP services have become so popular. They provide incredible flexibility for businesses and workers, allowing the number of users to be scaled up or down at any time. Staff can take their phone numbers with them to any location where they can log onto the Internet, so they are always available. There is much greater management control and detailed reporting, not to mention an advanced set of features. An IP-based business voice service will give you much more capability and more options than any analogue PBX.
But whether or not you subscribe to a hosted voice service such as BT Cloud Voice or Gamma Horizon, with broadband – even today – you do still need that landline. But for ‘landline’ you can read ‘copper line’ because that, physically, is what it is; a piece of copper cabling that runs between your phone point and the green cabinet in the street and from there, across the network of overhead and underground cables – some of which are copper and some of which are fibre – that form the UK’s public switched telephone network (PSTN).
You don’t have to use the line for voice services – but you do need to rent the line if you want a broadband service. Without it, there is nothing to carry the signal.
The copper components of the PSTN network, however, are gradually being replaced by fibre optic cables. This is, of course, much faster and smaller and by 2025, there should be fibre everywhere, so the PSTN can be switched off.
When that happens, it will be very easy for any ISP to offer voice services (it’s pretty easy now, in fact) and it will also mean that the legacy of the landline will disappear. You will be able to have a broadband-only connection as, by definition, and you’ll get voice capability with it. Effectively, every broadband connection will also be a VoIP connection.
But, of course, 2025 is more than five years away and by then, markets and the way that businesses and people interact, will change in that time. We could speculate about exactly what will happen, but frankly, the possibilities are almost endless. New, emerging technologies, such as AI and analytics and the Internet of Things, the growth of cloud computing and the ‘as-a-service’ approach to IT and communications will certainly transform the way we all work and interact. But what sort of connectivity and communications service will your business need in 2025? Only you will really have any idea of the answer to that question.
Back in the here and now, there is no need to delay. Hosted VoIP services will deliver real business benefits today – there is no need to wait until 2025 to lose your old voice service and adopt one that will give you greater flexibility and scalability enhanced functionality and more control.