You may have heard that a major change is coming to the UK's phone network in the coming years. By 2025, traditional landline phones, using 100-year-old technology, are set to be switched off in favour of a digital network fit for the modern era.
This will apply to both home and business phone lines, so if you're still relying on analogue equipment, you'll need to make plans now to upgrade.
Migrating early to digital telephony solutions will be especially important for small businesses, freelancers and startups. These firms can't afford to be left without communications, and if they leave their planning too late, they could find themselves overpaying for unsuitable services in order to hit the deadline.
However, the impending switch off is more than just a necessity. It's also a great opportunity for less-sizable firms to move to technologies that were previously only affordable or practical for larger companies. This offers them the chance to level up their communications with more advanced features and compete on an even footing.
So what will the new communications landscape look like after the landline phones' 2025 switch-off, and why do you need to pay attention to it?
In 2025, BT Openreach, the organisation responsible for building and maintaining the UK's phone network, will turn off the country's analogue public switched telephone network (PSTN) as part of the ongoing digital switchover.
This means that existing hardware and infrastructure that relies on this technology will no longer function. Instead, you'll need handsets that can use internet protocol (IP) technology to transmit voice in a digital format using a broadband connection when you make or receive a phone call.
The work to replace analogue networks is being handled by Openreach, which has already begun turning off circuits in some areas. By 2023, it will stop accepting new orders for PSTN systems altogether ahead of the full switch-off in 2025.
This will also include the switch off of Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), as these also rely on landline cables, even though they transmit data digitally. As such, anyone with a PSTN or ISDN connection will need to make plans now to move away from these solutions.
The main reason for the switch is that older analogue technology is getting less reliable and more expensive to maintain, and PSTN and ISDN cannot support the speed and scalability that today's communications need.
Many parts of the UK's network have therefore become very outdated. In fact, some of the copper cables that still support the UK's landline network have been in place since the 19th century, so Openreach has decided the time has come for a modernisation.
While the technology will change, the terminology may not, and you won't have to switch to mobile devices. 'Landline' phones that are connected via cables will still be around - they'll just use digital internet technology rather than analogue.
Instead of traditional landlines, your office phones will use what's known as Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. This converts audio into digital data packets that are then sent over broadband networks via your router.
It's easy to set up, and means you can make phone calls through a range of devices, including desktop and laptops PCs and smartphones, as well as VoIP-enabled desk handsets.
However, it does mean that once you've moved to a digital phone line, anything else plugged into the old telephone wall socket may stop working, or need additional equipment to be purchased and plugged in to enable it to work. Therefore, firms should start making plans now to ensure all their phone-based services are migrated to digital technology.
Both home and business users will be affected by the PSTN and ISDN switch-off, but businesses in particular will need to plan ahead to ensure there's no interruption in services and they can continue to serve customers.
A lot of focus may be on home users - especially vulnerable customers such as older people who do not have an internet connection - but this does not mean business customers should be overlooked, as many still rely on analogue phone systems for mission-critical communications.
As of 2020, around 2.4 million businesses in the UK still used analogue phone services, with the majority of these being small and medium-sized firms. However, one in three large enterprises also uses the technology in some form, often for non-voice services.
It's not just voice calls that will be affected. A range of other services still use analogue phone lines, including CCTV cameras, alarms, door entry systems, lift lines, payment terminals and more. These will all also need to be moved to IP technology by 2025.
If you're still using this network, you'll need to speak to your phone provider about moving to one of the alternatives. For many, this will be an internet-based VoIP system, though other options are available.
The good news is this is not usually a complicated process. You can usually keep your existing numbers and the migration itself is very straightforward. However, if in doubt, your provider will be able to answer any questions you have.
If you are still using landline phones that are set to be withdrawn by 2025, you'll need to start planning now to avoid a last-minute rush. Experiences in other countries that have undergone a similar transition, such as Germany, showed that many companies experienced 'ISDN panic' as the deadline loomed and they realised they weren't prepared.
Therefore, it's vital to be aware of what's coming, know what your options are and how to make the move.
The primary options for most firms will be internet phone services, or VoIP. These use the same connectivity infrastructure as your broadband connection, turning your voice calls into digital data that can be transmitted at high speed. They offer a number of advantages over traditional landline services, including lower costs and easy set up, with no installation visits or engineering work required.
Voice-only internet phone services that use a traditional landline handset connected to an internet service will be the most common type of phone system, but there are others. Some systems, for example, can be accessed through a web browser with just a headset, while if you've ever used a mobile app such as WhatsApp or Skype to make a voice call, this is also VoIP.
The main thing you'll need to make VoIP a reality for your firm is a business broadband connection. For the vast majority of firms, this should be a given, but if you're working in a very rural area with poor connectivity, for example, you'll have to check if your system meets the requirements.
Outside of this, you'll need handsets that are capable of connecting to VoIP. Many existing devices may already offer this functionality, even if they're only currently being used for landline phones. However, it's essential you check with your provider early to avoid any surprises.
Making the move should be fairly straightforward. But there are still a few steps you should go through first to determine what you'll need and if there will be any other upgrades you'll have to make in order to ensure the transition to internet phones is as easy as possible.
Most broadband connections will support a VoIP solution to a greater or lesser extent. This doesn't have to be a blazingly-fast service in order to support high-quality voice calls, although this will certainly be beneficial if you have multiple users, as it will be competing with all your other office data.
A connection speed of 5Mbps is usually considered the bare minimum, but the actual number will depend on how many users you have, the amount of data you use generally and the quality of service you require.
If you're unsure whether your connection is up to the task - which may be especially the case if you're still using old copper cabling - speak to your communications provider. Migrating to a full fibre-to-the-premises connection that brings a fibre optic cable to your door will often be the best solution, as this delivers all the speed and reliability your firm needs.
However, this technology isn't available everywhere just yet, and if it's not reached you, an expert partner can advise you on what the best alternative would be.
As with any migration, there may be bumps along the road. Persuading people to move on from services they've used for many years is always a challenge, but VoIP systems are simple and intuitive to use, so this should not be an issue.
There are also a number of myths that still surround VoIP, such as that it offers poorer quality or is less secure. Addressing these misconceptions will help get firms on board with the technology.
The PSTN and ISDN switch off is coming, whether you're ready or not. Therefore, firms that take the time to plan early and put preparations for their migration in place will be much better-placed to make the shift from landline phones to internet-based services as smooth as possible.
Get in touch with bOnline on 020 3697 4169 to learn more about our internet-based VoIP systems, or visit our website to keep up with the latest news on the progress.