The digital switch-over: Building a network fit for the future of business
Today, every business is a digital business. Whether they’re a small setup selling online and taking mobile payments – or a major multinational relying on secure, multi-cloud networks – connectivity underpins commerce at every level. And to make the UK’s businesses fit for the future, they must be ready to respond to technological change.
As we saw during the pandemic, a company’s ability to rapidly adopt new ways of working is crucial to help them survive and thrive.
Put simply, building a business on a solid digital foundation helps futureproof it – separating those organisations that are prepared for the new digital reality from those that aren’t.
Yet one technological advancement many businesses haven’t yet switched on to is the move away from the outdated PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) to faster, streamlined fully digital connectivity (all-IP). And it’s almost the end of the line for PSTN.
As of September 2023, there are now no new connections to PSTN or ISDN networks, and from December 2025 this technology will be decommissioned. Businesses need to act now to be ready for what’s coming next.
Modernising the UK
The move away from the PSTN is a once-in-a-generation upgrade to the UK’s communications infrastructure. It’s taking place because the ageing legacy (largely copper-based) phone network is no longer fit for purpose.
The last generation of the technology was installed in the 1980s when its primary function was telephony. As our portfolio of communications tools has changed, so must the network infrastructure that underpins it.
It’s no secret that this legacy infrastructure is difficult to maintain. Manufacturers have stopped producing the parts necessary to make repairs, making it increasingly difficult to source spares. There are also decreasing engineering skills to repair the PSTN, as the people trained to maintain it retire.
As end-of-life technology, it’s increasingly liable to faults and quite frankly, just isn’t built to meet the needs of modern businesses.
Investing in a fully digital UK network is a government-backed, industry-wide programme designed to futureproof communications for everyone. It helps businesses unify their communications platforms, so their people can collaborate better and work together more productively. And it’s not unique to these shores. Countries like Germany and Norway are far ahead of the UK in making the switch, while The Netherlands and Estonia have already switched off their networks.
What’s more, the digital switch-over provides businesses with the opportunity to better manage their connectivity infrastructure, allowing them to save money by consolidating systems, simplifying billing, and reducing admin. It opens the door to tailored, future-ready solutions that can be seamlessly integrated with existing systems and technologies, like Cloud Voice – a VoIP (Voice over IP) solution that combines all the features of a traditional phone system with the flexibility of the cloud.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Despite the impending PSTN retirement, recent research from BT reveals that there’s still a way to go for businesses in preparing for the move.
Nearly 60% of those surveyed overall – and more than 70% of IT staff – believe that moving their communications to the cloud or a digital voice solution will be easy. This is a strong suggestion that many businesses are underestimating the job at hand. It is given extra weight by the fact that only 6% of businesses say that moving their communications to the cloud or a digital voice solution is already underway.
The research showed there is a lack of urgency around the migration to all-IP, with the de-prioritisation of IP solutions a common theme in many organisations. From confusion over who is responsible for what, to misaligned IT and wider organisational goals, it’s clear there’s work to do to bring businesses up to speed on the opportunity – and the risks of inaction.
Supporting customers’ needs
A large number of devices and services rely on the PSTN for connectivity, such as chip and pin machines and CCTV systems. Many businesses might not realise that these devices will be impacted by the switch-over, which is why we’re urging businesses to begin their transition now if they haven’t already started.
As a first step, enterprises should contact their communications providers to speak to them about their plans for the PSTN migration, and the support they can provide. Once done, they should look to audit their estate to understand what they are using their lines for. Businesses should then build a migration plan and consider appointing a project manager to help coordinate activities and share key learnings. Setting up channels and forums to collaborate will make the task easier, and a comprehensive strategy will help generate buy-in from senior stakeholders within the business.
As an industry, our priority should be to move customers off the old analogue network and onto modern IP connectivity ahead of December 2025. However, given the size and nuances of the transition, there will be some situations where some businesses will need an interim solution to remain connected whilst they are moved off the PSTN. At BT, we are currently in the early stages of developing an interim solution, the Pre-Digital Phone Line.
The future is now
Updating the UK’s telecoms infrastructure is an essential investment in its future. Fundamentally, this transition is about modernising our national networks, so they are resilient and able to serve today’s consumers and businesses by offering more choice, faster speeds, better reliability, and simplified communications.
Preparing effectively for this digital future will be make or break for businesses. And putting in place a coherent plan ahead of the deadline means organisations can enjoy the benefits sooner and avoid disruption later on. The time to act is now.
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