Our top tips for migrating the PSTN Switch Off

Change is opportunity and it is risk. We like change – we initiate it and drive it through proactively to help customers move forward and grow. But we’re not so keen on change forced upon us.

In the IT and tech worlds, we are used to change – in tech itself (mobile phones), infrastructure (Internet) or the legislation surrounding its use (GDPR). There have been many examples over the years; Y2K preparation, Brexit regulations and lock-down. We get them from time to time with core IT components reaching end of life and out of support from Microsoft and other strategic vendors. Milestones for which we need to plan prepare and address.

What next?

These examples are all part of the strategic calescence of tech, and we have another change looming in the form of the PSTN Switch Off happening over the next four-year period.
This change may not be so well known, or as controversial as Brexit, but for millions of SMBs, corporate and public sector organisations, it represents a major change in the fabric of their telecommunications on which they currently rely.

So, it’s a ‘thing’?

Yes – it’s an ongoing national programme and milestones that will affect many thousands of businesses (and consumers) across the UK. (BT’s page on the Switch Off is here.) It will affect millions of lines and the services and devices which use PSTN/ISDN for connection.

This change is a major upgrade of our national infrastructure and as such requires the sort of planning and action that Brexit and before that, GDPR and Y2K necessitated. So, it is a real milestone now, at the time of writing, less than five years out. It is inconvenient, particularly if your analogue services are currently working, and another thing to address on top of recovering from lockdown.

Why change? Why now?

Our current telephone infrastructure dates back to the start of the last century and whilst revolutionary at the time, the original designers could not have anticipated the volume, complexity and speed of communications which it would come to support.

Initially for voice, but from the late 20th century, data would increase drastically as devices came to use this same legacy network. It is remarkable the extensibility of the original infrastructure and the modern communications which it still managed to support with the introduction of ISDN. However, inevitably, Openreach, who are responsible for this infrastructure, is calling time and readying its replacement. They are preparing to switch off the PSTN copper lines and migrate the UK data and telecommunications traffic to fibre lines which are fully digital, fast, flexible and ready to take us through the next phase of our data journey alongside 5G for mobile.

That’s progress…

We’d all agree with this progress from a national infrastructure perspective, but it does mean change for your organisation. Telephone systems, door access and alarms, security systems, EPOS and card readers, and faxes – all may be affected and cease to work when PSTN lines are switched off by Openreach from April 2025.

This is at best inconvenient and potentially more serious for many organisations who have built up their own office, business and workplace communications, security and customer service functionality over this, what was assumed to be a persistent, unchanging platform of PSTN.

Change forced upon us

As with many situations we don’t create, it’s all about the quality of our response. Many commentators have dubbed this, ‘The Great PSTN Switch Off’ and it certainly deserves such billing. However, at Digital Space, we prefer to think of it as ‘The Great Digital Switch On’ – a great opportunity to engage with the benefits of a replacement fibre infrastructure and accelerate digital transformation, with a communications platform that can deliver on the expectation of the latest data-driven IT architectures and cloud services.

Change for the better

At this point it is probably worth considering the benefits of the new technology which will replace the copper infrastructure, including cheaper running costs for a start, not to mention agility, scalability and the capacity for infrastructures that meet the needs of the data rich and hungry, organisations of today. Plus, there is the ability to access cloud-based services – storage, back-up, SaaS (Software as a Service), data analytics and Edge technologies.

So, whilst there is the cost and disruption of changing, the upside is that the replacement should be cheaper, with access to a greater range of services and functionality.

These services though may seem like answers to a problem you don’t have, particularly if your IT and comm’s are stable, cost-effective and fit for purpose. This is then the opportunity to consider your organisation’s digital strategy, customer experience and IT-enabled growth. Consider your competitors and how they are innovating with more responsive customer interfaces and services. How have you moved your customers on and materially improved their experience of dealing with you? Has the last 18-months of lockdown and hybrid working been a challenge for your organisation or simply a reconfiguration of your mobilised workforce?

Make a plan

At Digital Space we recommend you prepare for the Switch Off by building a ‘Digital Switch On’ agenda for your organisation. This requires a combination of proactivity from your organisation in response to Openreach’s programme milestones.

Key steps in planning include:

  1. Audit your exposure to the Switch Off in your organisation
    • Identify your use of PSTN lines by each of your locations, sites and branches
    • Create an inventory of devices connected – phones, alarms, access systems, faxes, EPOS and card readers
  2. Understand the impact on your organisation
    • What services do these devices provide? What processes rely on them?
    • How will your business activity be affected if they are deactivated or cannot be expanded? (Note, before Openreach turns off the lines, they will stop selling or changing lines, their so called, ‘stop sell’ – a milestone which is happening now depending on location exchange. You can search for the stop sell on individual exchanges your organisation uses here.)
  3. Develop a strategy for each service and device
    • Extend life (with some adaption and digital integration) or,
    • Replace and upgrade with digital alternative devices and services – many of which will be a virtualised service
  4. Develop a comprehensive migration plan
    • Consider efficacy and age of current devices, systems and services; replacement costs, timescales, impact on operations as well as the skills required
    • Integrate and inform your migration plan with your wider digital transformation strategy
  5. Execute!
    • Implement the plan, starting with communications across your organisation – you will need your team to help with migrations, adopt new solutions and potentially spot any further instances of PSTN usage that have gone unregistered
    • Review your operational locations against Openreach’s stop sell schedule to understand the constraints on changes to existing lines and sequence of eventual switch off (You can search for the stop sell on individual exchanges your organisation uses here.)

Isn’t the easiest option just to get a replacement service from my existing provider?

Yes, so long as they have a full range of digital service replacements and the ability to transform your operations and customer services, so you can take full advantage of the new digital services available. If you’re reading this, then they may not have been keeping you updated on this major milestone and helping you plan for it through a migration strategy.

But we’re trying to recover from Lockdown?

Indeed – it has been a tough time for many organisations, particularly retail, hospitality and leisure, so make your PSTN response part of your digital transformation and growth agenda.

This may sound fine in principle but, with the post-lockdown recovery agenda in full swing, how do you go about attaining these digital transformation goals?

Work with a provider experienced in IT-led change, digital transformation and data-led architectures. Select a supplier who has the track-record and capability to replace your analogue to digital communications, who can connect you to the cloud and all its capacity and services, and who can safeguard this environment with a secure service edge.

Can Digital Space help?

Yes, we can. At Digital Space, we focus on enabling customers’ digital transformation by building and running secure, enterprise-class business services in the cloud, whilst also supporting legacy infrastructure.

If you would like to benefit from a free Connected audit with one of our specialists, please click here.

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