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The PSTN switch-off: Is your business ready?

Posted 11th July 2023

Plus the benefits of moving to cloud-based communications

As the UK’s telecoms operator prepares to switch off the nation’s analogue infrastructure forever, businesses need to prepare for the move to digital. The good news is, businesses that make the move sooner rather than later have a golden opportunity to build a truly bespoke communications strategy that’s fit for the future…

What is the PSTN and ISDN switch-off?

The national Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) has been supporting the UK’s telecommunications for more than a century. Some of the old copper wiring that enables telephone calls, internet connections, fibre broadband connectivity and even old Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) has been in use since the 19th century. It’s old, it’s getting increasingly expensive to maintain, and in many ways it no longer meets the demands of our modern, ultra-connected world. National network operator Openreach has decided the time has come to upgrade the UK to a digital network, and will be turning off the PSTN and ISDN for good.

When is the PSTN being switched off?

The switch-off has already begun in some parts of the country, with analogue services already closed to new customers and some towns and cities already operating on the new IP network. For all customers – including businesses and homes – everywhere, the PSTN will be switched off in 2025.

That’s two years away – do businesses need to do anything now?

Depending on how much of the business’s systems rely on the PSTN, there could be a lot to do before the 2025 deadline, so it’s a good idea to start now. Regardless, if all businesses wait until the last minute to make the switch, new digital service providers are likely to become overwhelmed and businesses could face long waits and significant disruption. As it stands, just 8% of businesses are fully prepared for the switch-off. The sooner the remaining businesses can make the move, the better placed they will be to get the best-fit solutions in place, iron out any wrinkles and avoid disruption.
It’s not just about making phone calls, after all. Lots of businesses use telephone lines to support other important facilities like lifts, door entry systems, payment terminals and fire alarms, and those will all need upgrading to digital solutions before the switch-off.

What do businesses need to do to prepare?

Every business is different, and the steps each one needs to take to prepare for the switch-off will vary. That said, there are a few things every business, regardless of size, will need to do to minimise disruption when the eventual switch-off happens…

1. Review your infrastructure

The first thing all businesses will need to do is perform a thorough review of the current set-up to identify everything that is using voice lines. This will need a coordinated approach that involves teams from across the organisation, including facilities management and IT. Upgrading to digital could affect everything from door entry systems and alarms to payment terminals and lifts, so it’s important to get a clear picture of everything that will be impacted by the switch-off.

2. Upgrade connectivity

The move to internet-enabled voice and communications means that, at the very least, businesses will need to ensure they have fast, reliable, high-quality internet connections in place.

  • Do you have the capacity to support all the cloud services you are using now, as well as the applications you may want to add to the environment in the future?
  • Is your bandwidth sufficient to support jitter-free video calls if everyone is making them at the same time?
  • Can your connections support IoT devices and any other new technologies that may come into play?

Businesses will need to ensure they have high-quality, high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity, with enough capacity to meet their demands not just for today, but into the future.

3. Consider hardware

Traditional analogue phones won’t work once the PSTN is switched off, so if you are still relying on them you will need to replace your handsets.
Before you do, though, it might be worth reviewing how your teams work and considering whether IP handsets are the best use of resources. If your contact centre teams are frequently relying on email or chat functions instead of phone calls, for example, this might be the perfect time to switch to a cloud-based contact centre or unified communications solution instead. Likewise, if your business operates a hybrid working model, it might be that a hybrid of IP handsets and headsets with a softphone client is the best solution.
Take this opportunity to build a communications system that works effectively and efficiently for your business now, while being flexible enough to meet your future needs too.

Will digital really be better?

The move to digital isn’t just about the old copper wiring of the PSTN becoming harder and more costly to maintain. Businesses and customers are operating in an increasingly digital world, and the national telecoms infrastructure is no longer fit for purpose.
As businesses and consumers, we have all come to appreciate the benefits of digital communications. We can make and receive calls from anywhere. We can switch between devices. We can use the same number and share contact information with ourselves, wherever we are. And we can link all our business applications and systems seamlessly, to keep us connected to our colleagues, our customers and our partners, wherever and however we are working.
Digital empowers businesses to connect, collaborate and scale at will, and to deliver better experiences for our teams and our customers. For most of us, digital will not only be better, it is what we have come to expect.

The benefits of digital voice

  • Switching from analogue and ISDN to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solution like a cloud-based collaboration system brings countless business benefits:
    Cost savings – Traditional telephony isn’t cheap. As well as the monthly line rental and call charge costs, there are associated hardware costs that become a non-issue with cloud-based systems.
  • Flexibility and efficiency – Cloud-based systems allow businesses to add extra lines, capacity, features and functions at will, on a pay-as-you-go basis and without the need for additional physical hardware or circuitry.
  • Integrated support – Using a single provider for connectivity, communication and collaboration gives businesses a single point of contact for support, as well as better integration of services, more efficient traffic performance, and enhanced insights and analytics. These elements come together to support better data-driven decision-making and service delivery to improve the customer and employee experience.

The future is digital

The PSTN switch-off isn’t just a chance for businesses to upgrade their phone systems; it’s an opportunity to reimagine the boundaries of communication.
Businesses that haven’t yet begun the move to digital have a golden opportunity to design a brand-new communications system from the ground up: one that’s more efficient, more flexible, more integrated, more aligned with new ways of working, more capable of driving better customer and team experiences and, yes, more cost-effective.

At BCN, we can help businesses design a truly bespoke digital communications system that’s fit for the future.
Get in touch with our team today to find out how we can support your business through the PSTN switch-off, with everything from a full system review and designing a new communications strategy to supporting your future comms with a range of cloud-based VoIP and UC solutions.

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