Did you know that in 2025 BT will turn off their ISDN and PSTN networks for voice calling? We asked Jeff Cohen, Director at Time Communication Solutions, for his recommendations on how business owners can prepare for the ISDN and PSTN switch-off.

Your business telephone system might not be something you’ve given much thought to recently – or ever? There are two main services that business phones traditionally operated on - Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) and Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), more commonly known as analogue lines.

What is the ISDN and PSTN switch-off?

The communications industry is going through a huge shift right now, similar to the analogue TV switch-off that was finalised in 2012 (remember that?).

BT announced in 2015 that they will switch off their ISDN and PSTN services in 2025. The Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) service is a telephone-based network system that transmits voice and data over copper wires. They are used to allow businesses to make voice calls on multiple numbers, while transmitting data and conducting videoconferencing simultaneously.

PSTN systems also consist of physical copper telephone lines and are currently used by millions of homes and small businesses. They have generally been used in smaller businesses where only a single number and maybe only a few concurrent calls are required.

“The physical infrastructure has gradually become outdated and more expensive to maintain”, Jeff explains. “As internet connectivity and reliability has improved, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony systems have increased in popularity. With BT’s announcement, all businesses will have to move over to VoIP by 2025.”

What do I need to do to prepare for the ISDN and PSTN switch-off?

While there’s certainly no need to panic, Jeff’s advice is to start planning and complete your transition to VoIP as soon as possible.

“BT initially said in 2015 that they will stop taking new orders for the ISDN service in 2020, but they have now extended this to September 2023, which has given everyone in the industry some clarity around when people will need to do something about this. As we approach the 2025 switch-off, communications businesses and number port migration departments will become increasingly busy”, Jeff says.

Benefits of VoIP

While many businesses were already making plans to switch to VoIP, Jeff explains that the pandemic has accelerated this for a lot of businesses, who have had to work very differently since March 2020.

He said: “We’ve seen an explosion in people working from home and this has been a challenge for most businesses as they work around how they divert phone calls to workers based all over the place. Additionally, how do these same workers make outgoing phone calls without presenting their own home or personal mobile numbers. With VoIP this is really easy!

“In 2021, I think we’ll see this acceleration of VoIP adoption continue and the realisation of some strategic shifts for businesses that this technology makes possible. We’ll see many companies that were planning to relocate to larger offices decide to stay where they are and instead have extra staff working from home. Others will downsize their offices because their staff work so well at home. I’ve also seen a growth of something I’ve not experienced before and that I believe will continue: Companies deciding not to have an office at all; all their staff now work from home. With VoIP it’s easy to set up the telecoms to allow these strategies to easily work – without VoIP it just wouldn’t.

Businesses that switch over to a VoIP service enjoy a number of benefits, including:

  • Cost savings – most businesses can install a system compatible with their existing connectivity with minimal equipment required. In addition, most UK calls are at no charge, and international calling is much cheaper.
  • Grants and vouchers – the government is supporting businesses with the cost of adopting digital technologies
  • Number portability – Historically when a company moves office, if it’s leaving a BT exchange you wouldn’t be able to take the number – now with VoIP you can take a number (whether existing on the BT network or new) wherever you go.
  • Increased mobility – handsets will work anywhere in the world where you have an internet connection and you can have calls to your desktop number also come through to compatible apps on your mobile, so you don’t miss important calls if you’re away from your desk
  • Scales easily as your business grows – there’s been a shift to more, but smaller offices. VoIP allows you to have all your offices on one system regardless of where they are, and new offices can be added to the system easily
  • Appear local – for businesses whose customers trust a local number, you can get local area numbers programmed to one system no matter where it is located. This means you appear local to customers, but your team can pick up calls wherever they are
  • Increased productivity – VoIP allows you to make and receive calls for your business wherever you have internet, so you can make the most of your time
  • Improved team morale – when your team don’t physically need to be in the office to make and receive calls, they enjoy greater flexibility, which can lead to improved morale

Are there any downsides to VoIP?

Jeff explains that people are sometimes wary of VoIP because of poor experiences in the past.

“Ten years ago, when VoIP was a technology in its infancy, internet connections weren’t as good. It relies entirely on internet connection, so if the infrastructure isn’t there, a different solution might be required”, Jeff says.

If your area currently lacks high-speed internet connections, Jeff says that a hybrid ISDN-VoIP system can be used, though the need for this is rare.

What help is available for transitioning to VoIP?

The government is making a big push for improving connectivity and have made £67m available for businesses to claim £2,500 towards the cost of installing full fibre gigabit capable connections.

The universal service obligation (USO) legislation gives you a right to request a ‘decent’ broadband connection. You may be eligible if your broadband download speed is under 10Mb and upload speed is under 1Mb.

There are many other grant schemes available to help your business grow that you might not be aware of – some with a digital focus and others more general.

What are the main points to consider when getting a new telephone system?

“One of the first things to consider, whether you’re in a serviced office or a home office, is to get a number you’re comfortable with”, Jeff advises. “Some people want to just use their mobiles, which is fine, but others who are targeting a local audience may want a local number.”

He continues: “03 numbers are also available and are counted in mobile inclusive minutes for callers to the number. It’s cheap to buy a number and then you own it.

“Sometimes business owners get caught out when they realise that their serviced offices won’t let them take their number with them when moving, so that is worth being aware of to save hassle in future if you move.”

Other than the number, the main choice for new phone systems will soon be between on-premise VoIP – for those that want the system on-site, and hosted VoIP – for those who want flexibility and off-site support with guaranteed uptime and backups. Your communications consultants will be able to advise you on packages.

Jeff Cohen is Director of Time Communication Solutions Limited, based in Yorkshire. They supply, install and maintain telephone systems for businesses.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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