The UK’s analogue telephone network (PSTN) has been used for over 100 years and is being switched off between now and 2025. Awareness of the consequences are low and the impact to businesses could be significant. However, for those who want to embrace the move to digital, the benefits can be transformational. Damian Fisher, Managing Director of Telecoms and Transformation at Hexagon Consultants explains what’s happening and what businesses need to do.
What’s happening to the UK telephone network?
You may remember around 10 years ago when the whole country moved from analogue to Digital TV. Now there is another nationwide switchover taking place as the old telephone network is being replaced by a new digital one, so everything needs to move in just 3 ½ years. It’s not only general voice and call centre services that are affected as many others use the PSTN to communicate critical information e.g., intruder / CCTV and healthcare alarms, monitoring systems, point-of-sale machines, door entry systems, emergency phones in lifts and faxes.
Why is it happening?
The PSTN has powered the phone network since the late 1800’s, but we’ve all seen the dramatic changes in technology over the past few years and the need to be constantly connected wherever we are. What isn’t obvious is the complex infrastructure that makes it all work, the copper cables under the pavement and the telephone wires coming into homes and offices. The fact is that analogue systems are now incapable of satisfying our demands, they’re end of service life and like many old technologies, they need to be retired and make way for the infinite possibilities of digital.
Why are we talking about this now?
There are an estimated 2.4m businesses using PSTN based services and they all need to migrate by 2025 which is an incredibly challenging transformation plan! However, the more pressing date is September 2023 when analogue products are withdrawn from sale meaning customers can no longer order, change or upgrade their service, move provider or increase capacity. Businesses risk having a ‘gun to their heads’ by being forced to move to digital before they’re ready and without having time to meticulously plan something of this magnitude into their schedules.
Why haven’t I heard of it?
Whilst the impact is nationwide, Openreach are a privately owned business (part of BT Group plc.), they have decided to close the network and therefore it’s not the Government or the Regulators (Ofcom) responsibility to communicate, hence the absence of a ‘public service broadcast’ type campaign. Additionally, Openreach sell access to the PSTN on a wholesale basis to 100’s of privately owned Communication Providers (CP’s) who own the end customer, so they’re not able to campaign on their behalf. Finally, CPs are concerned that 1/ if they agitate the market, they may lose customers to their rivals and 2/ many are still selling easy to install, margin rich analogue services to meet aggressive P&L targets until the stop sell is enforced in September 2023! It is this fragmentation and complexity which has created a vacuum of awareness with the risk being carried by the end customer.
Should I do something now?
Most definitely yes! Due to the lack of a national campaign, many businesses are either unaware of the switch off or are complacent that ‘it will be ok’ / ‘my current provider will work it out’. Our advice is the opposite. Ensure you understand whether you’re impacted and if you are, plan how you will navigate the move to digital. There is so much choice you should not leave decisions to your current CP. Remember, it’s not just about calls, you need to review everything you’re connecting to your phone lines like healthcare alarms, door entry systems, intruder alarms, CCTV, emergency phones in lifts, payphones, business monitoring systems, point-of-sale machines and faxes. Some older technologies are not compatible with digital therefore these may need to be upgraded too. The task is further complicated because although Telecom’s suppliers are aware who they have sold an analogue voice line to, they don’t necessarily know what it’s being used for. Organisations, therefore, need to assess their telecoms estate quickly to understand what PSTN-reliant technologies they may have and put a plan in place to complete the switch.
How could I be impacted?
In addition to losing telephone and internet access, all other services that use the PSTN may be switched off. Additionally, insurance policies may be invalidated, health and safety could be compromised, revenues could be impacted, contracts may be nullified, data security and compliance could be affected, this list goes on!
Is digital better?
In short yes, as with digital you can make calls on any device from wherever you are. Business applications and systems link with video chat, calls and collaboration services, so you can work virtually and as effectively as ever. Contact Centres integrate seamlessly with wider business services allowing you to improve user experience and have a truly flexible workforce with the same control, data and insight as you have when employees are on site. Additionally, research shows that SMEs who switched have saved ~31% of total telephony costs so there is no need to wait until the last moment and risk being switched off.
What do I do next?
If you haven’t already, I urge you to review your telecommunications and contact centre infrastructure, understand how the switch off will affect you and ideally seek professional advice. We are always here to help UK Contact Centre Forum members and as part of our relationship we are providing a free consultation. For more information visit Hexagon PSTN Switch-off (pstn-transfer.com)