A Voyage of Discovery

The big switch-off of ISDN and PST in 2025 will bring both challenges and opportunities for VoIP resellers – some of which may not become apparent until customers can be persuaded to make the change

A recent interview with James Lilley, head of copper and service products at Openreach, published on The Register, suggested that there may be a delay in the big switch-over from PSTN to all-digital voice in 2025.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone in the comms industry to hear that the whole business is probably going to be more complicated than anyone has yet imagined. The fact that this kind of article is appearing at all, suggests that Openreach might already be looking at managing the expectations of the business world, without making them unduly concerned about making the switch. For there is no question that the switch will happen – and that it will bring significant benefits to businesses.

As the article pointed out, there are going to be some complications when the UK’s 15 million analogue phone lines are turned off. Hopefully, by then, most businesses will have swapped over to hosted voice services. But the message that Openreach is clearly trying to convey is that the industry needs to make the switch to happen well before that point, because there will be no absolute guarantee that what worked up to 31 December 2024 will work on 1 January 2025.

Essential testing

There are all kinds of services that will need to be tested with VoIP to ensure they work. Intruder alarm and temperature control systems, for example. There may also be incoming calls that customers need to ensure they capture or divert out-of-hours. There are all kinds of possibilities in different sectors and all of them will need to be tested with VoIP.

Openreach admits it has no way of knowing how many systems are dependent on existing connections. For them, and for the UK comms industry as a whole, the next five years will be a voyage of discovery. There will be thousands of different service offerings provided by hundreds of communications companies, service providers and security firms. Hundreds of thousands of businesses might be dependent on these services in some way – and they will want to be absolutely assured that their services will work after the switch-over.

Early testing of hosted VoIP services is, therefore, essential. Indeed, Openreach is kicking-off a pilot programme in Mildenhall, Suffolk in December, with plans to switch PSTN off in the town in December 2022. That’s three years away, but it may take that long to discover what is being used behind the scenes. Persuading businesses to make the switch earlier than would seem to be absolutely necessary may be half the battle. Only then will we uncover what other services might be impacted.

Other side of the coin

Even then, it will only be when PSTN is actually switched off that all the potential issues are likely to become apparent. That’s only two years before the big switch is due to take place everywhere else.

But like any challenge, there is also opportunity on the other side of the coin. Resellers should already be making customers aware of the need to switch to hosted VoIP as early as possible. In addition, there is also a big opportunity to discover which services – other than their every-day voice calls – are being used by customers that depend in some way on voice lines being available. Identifying and testing these services with VoIP at the earliest possible stage will means there is plenty of time to iron out any problems and if necessary, seek alternative solutions.

Big switch-over

The big switch-over to hosted VoIP will be almost upon us five years from now. The ideal scenario at that point will be that everyone has already implemented cloud-based voice – and running essential or important services using VoIP. Knowing whether any such dependent services exist is the first step of making sure that the switch will be a smooth one for your customers.

There will be other complexities and challenges associated with the switch though. One is the possibility that some double migrations will be needed – to VoIP that makes use of copper-based lines, then later from copper to fibre. As James Lilley said in the above-mentioned article, there is still a chance that the switch-off will be delayed, but we suspect that will depend on how well the industry does at moving customers across to VoIP between now and 2025, and indeed, what real-world challenges are uncovered during the process of migrating customers to all-digital services.


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