BT has announced it will be switching off its PSTN and ISDN networks in 2025 in favour of IP voice services, with a gradual phase-out of the older systems starting in 2020. At this point, BT will cease taking ISDN orders, and all businesses will be forced to find other IP-based options for their business telephony systems.
What is PSTN and ISDN?
PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) is the familiar landline telephone system originally set up for analog voice communication, and became the most reliable method of making voice calls and the main carrier for internet activity across the world. ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) then came along, allowing the digital transmission of voice, video and other services simultaneously, using the traditional PSTN network.
Why are they being phased out?
In short, these legacy systems are out of date, as are the associated maintenance and running costs. Despite having been updated radically over the decades since they were introduced, these lines are still essentially the same in setup and design as the original phone lines of the 1800s. With all other fields of technology advancing at light speed around us, it makes sense that our telecoms systems are also updated.
As of early 2017 there were over 2 million businesses still with an ISDN connection in the UK [Ofcom], all of which will be affected by the planned switch-off in the coming years. A 2017 survey has also shown that a quarter of the UK’s businesses are still unaware that the switch-off is even taking place.
These businesses need to be made aware of the upcoming changes so they can begin the necessary switch to IP-based services such as SIP and VoIP to avoid finding themselves without a phone system.
What is SIP and VoIP?
SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) is a protocol used in VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), and allows people to make voice and video calls on a global scale using computer and mobile devices with an Internet connection.
The biggest and most noticeable difference between traditional ISDN and SIP networks for business owners is the cost, with communications between SIP users being completely free regardless of distance. These VoIP voice communication systems are also often referred to as cloud-based telephony systems.
Future-proofing with cloud telephony
Businesses large and small need to modernise their communications systems to stay ahead of the coming changes. What many businesses don’t actually realise is how many benefits this modernisation carries, particularly if they migrate to cloud telephony systems.
Cloud telephony is a revelation for business communications in so many ways, and some newer systems are even more advanced and convenient than the older VoIP services such as Skype.
To start with, using cloud telephony significantly reduces business phone line and contract bills, as there is no line rental or contractual commitments for various different services. In addition to the lower costs, which is music to any SME owner’s ears, cloud telephony is much more simple and easy to control than legacy systems.
Like many SaaS-based tools, cloud telephony gives you and your team the ability to use your own devices to make business calls, add and remove users whenever needed and work from any location you want. In a future where IP systems, BYOD and the gig economy look to dominate the business landscape, this level of flexibility in communications is essential to ensure businesses remain relevant and agile in the coming years.
The 5G Countdown
The ISDN switch off is not the only imminent technology revolution that the cloud can help protect businesses from.
5G, the next generation of cellular technology, is also expected to arrive by 2020, and this will completely transform the way business communications are approached. Offering an increased bandwidth and over a gigabit per second in data transfer rates, 5G will bring mobile internet speeds the likes of which are only currently possible over direct fibre connections.
The biggest benefit this will bring to businesses, and particularly new startups, is that it negates the need for any physical phone line or internet infrastructure. Kitting out a building with Ethernet cables, fibre and servers carries a sizeable cost, whereas the arrival of 5G brings the potential for everything to work around a single piece of equipment.
Bringing this back to cloud telephony, these systems currently use Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G networks in order to work their magic, and the arrival of 5G will only serve to strengthen the quality of service users will experience. This means that cloud telephony is at the forefront of telecoms innovation, and is the safest route to take for business owners who want to safeguard their future operations.
Existing Businesses: Next Steps
If you’re among the 2 million businesses that still have an ISDN connection, you should start thinking about switching to cloud-based telephony sooner rather than later. Here are some top tips to consider:
1. Find out when your contract is due to end or be renewed – This will give you an idea of when you can make the switch and will give you your own deadline for research
2. Don’t be tempted to automatically renew your existing contracts for the sake of an easy life – 2025 may seem like a long way off, but you don’t want to risk being left behind
3. Switch to cloud telephony services as soon as you are released from your current contracts – This will save you a great deal of money and time in the long run
4. Begin growing new users and clients onto cloud system – Even if you haven’t fully migrated onto the cloud as a business yet, it is better to set up new users on this system rather than waste time and money adding them to the legacy system, only for this to be scrapped in the near future.
New Businesses: How to future-proof your start-up
If you’re in the process of setting up a brand new business, make sure you take the following points into account to prevent setting up an already outdated company:
1. Pay attention to where you’re setting up – If you’re moving into shiny new offices, make sure you do it in an area with strong internet connectivity. To ensure a reliable cloud telephony service, you need access to a reliable Wi-Fi network and 4G (soon to be 5G). If you’re in a poorly serviced or remote area you will fall at the first hurdle.
2. Don’t buy outdated hardware - With the ISDN switch-off on the horizon, there’s no point investing in outdated hardware like traditional desk phones and phone lines. All of this will be obsolete in the very near future, so you’ll just be wasting your money
3. Set up with cloud telephony - The future of voice communications rests in the cloud, so start your business with a cloud-based telephony service to ensure you won’t be left behind. This will allow you to work from anywhere, grow and integrate your team seamlessly, save an enormous amount of money on lines and contracts and maintain high levels of productivity at all times.
Whether you’re an existing business or budding entrepreneur, making a move towards the cloud is the best thing you could do if you want to stay one step ahead of the future of telecoms.
Damian Hanson is co-founder of cloud-based telephony system, CircleLoop.