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  • Writer's pictureAngela Sanna

PSTN Switch-Off-What can the UK learn from the German PSTN Switch Off

The UK is going through a very interesting time right now – as regards the PSTN switch-off – but we’re not the first! Our friends in Germany have already gone through this journey. So, we thought it would be a good idea to get some tips from them on what went well and what lessons were learnt in the process. The switch-off happened in Germany back in 2018 and although, broadly speaking the PSTN switch off went off swimmingly, there were some notable issues, especially within the pharmaceutical supply sector and customers migrating their fax machines.

There are definitely lessons to be learned for the UK from the experiences of other countries. In Germany, for example, some businesses did not take action until very late, leading to an "ISDN panic" as the deadline approached and firms realised too late they had not adequately prepared.

Axel Klössner, Chief Operating Officer and International Business Director at German vendor Auerswald, commented: "A number of German businesses that were not aware of this change and how it affects them are in a state of panic as they heavily rely on their ISDN service to function. This can drive business owners to make quick decisions about something which could have a long- term costly impact on their sustainability."

Companies will also need to think beyond their own office. The switch-off may well also affect home and remote workers who currently rely on consumer-grade analogue phone or broadband systems, and businesses will have a responsibility to account for these workers as well in any migration.

One of the key questions is: was their experience similar to what’s happening in the UK at the moment?

Well, the short answer is yes: in general, the PSTN network in Germany was primarily used for phone lines, like in the UK. Similarly the switch-off was communicated to users when it was three or four years down the line to make sure they had plenty of time to prepare.

But – what went well and what didn’t? What lessons can we take from Germany to improve our experience and outcomes in the UK?

Here’s some key points from the migration that the UK can learn from:

Don’t leave it to the last minute

Yes, it’s stressful to have a whole new infrastructure project to add to your daily routine, particularly in the midst of economic uncertainty – but the PSTN switch-off cannot be ignored. The potential negatives of acting too late can be potentially business critical. As a business that relies on communication to operate, you must ensure your transition is smooth – and that the solution suits your business.

Make sure you know what will be affected

Your service providers will be communicating with you to ensure you’re aware of how the changes will affect you. It’s important to pay close attention to these communications and plan accordingly in good time to ensure minimal disruption to your operations.

It’s not all about phones

Specialised emergency equipment such as fire alarms need to be connected to the network – and always on. Be thinking about these pieces of equipment (as well as general alarm systems) because if you focus solely on phones, you’ll be missing a lot of infrastructure that could be affected by the switch-off.

Times have changed

Even since the switch-off in Germany in 2018, the world has become far more connected. Be aware that as critical as the changes were in previous switch-offs, our more connected world in 2023 means that any procrastination will have a bigger impact now than it would have had just five years ago.

Communicate clearly

This goes for both service providers and customers: ensure that you are communicating effectively and clearly, both about customer needs and advice / warnings to customers. Make sure everyone is 100% aware of what needs to be done, what the requirements are and what makes your business / offering unique.

Look for the quick wins

Many, many businesses already use collaborative software that unifies their workflows – with the exception of voice. Integrating voice to these already existing systems is not difficult to achieve. So your business may be better placed to make the change than you think!

And just in case you’re sitting there confused wondering what all this PSTN switch off chat is about? The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is the traditional phone system that has been in use for many, many years in the United Kingdom. The PSTN network will be switched off by 2025. This means that all telephone services in the UK will have to migrate to digital networks.

What are the benefits of this?

  • The freeing up of valuable resources that are currently being used to maintain the old system, which will allow telecoms providers to invest in more modern and efficient digital infrastructure.

  • Digital networks offer more modern features that are not available on the outdated PSTN network. VoIP services, for instance, allow users to make calls over the internet at a much lower cost and mobile networks also offer a range of features, such as text messaging and video calls, that are not available on the PSTN network.

  • The switch-off acts as a catalyst to a wider shift towards a more connected and digital society. By moving to digital networks, the UK will be in a better position to utilise emerging technologies, like the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G networks.

The PSTN switch off is a huge – perhaps daunting change. However, it is absolutely necessary if the UK is to remain competitive and connected in an increasingly digital world.

Leaving migrations late should not be an option for any UK business that wants to ensure continuity in its operations once services such as ISDN have been withdrawn. While December 2025 may feel like a long way away, it will be upon us sooner than many businesses realise.

The Steps to a Successful Migration It's therefore clear that to avoid making any rash decisions, UK businesses need to act now while there is still time to fully evaluate the options that are available. This ensures they will be able to prepare properly for any impacts the migration may have on their business, such as working around any downtime that may be necessary during the process.

To achieve this successfully, it will be important to work in partnership with an experienced partner. Openreach is taking the view that the migration should be industry- led, with it encouraging communications providers to take proactive steps to engage with customers and help them understand what they need to do.

This will be especially vital for the many firms who may lack the technical knowledge to navigate the migration themselves. This will likely include smaller companies and sole traders who may still be using telephony solutions bought years ago from consumer retailers, and now face a complex move to digital IP-based technology they may not fully understand. There's no set roadmap for how to complete a migration, and the services that are available and most appropriate for a business will be dependent on a number of factors, including the geography in the firm's local area, the size of the business and how many locations they need to connect to a new system.

It will first be important to establish how existing services will be maintained and disruption kept to a minimum throughout the process, then carefully assess the merits of the various available options, including flexibility, scalability and what ongoing costs are expected.

Making the Transition - What Should the Next Steps Be?

With the clock ticking on the countdown to the ISDN switch-off, it's imperative businesses act now to ensure their transition away from this technology goes smoothly. This can be a complex task, especially for small companies with limited experience and expertise in this area, which is why it pays to seek out advice from a trusted communications provider.

The first step for any business that is worried about how they may be affected by the switch-off, or is unsure about what their options are, is to arrange a consultation with their communications provider. This should help to identify what services will be affected, and what the best route forwards will be.

With sales of ISDN being stopped from 2023, firms can't afford to put this off. Taking the time now to plan for the future and ensure voice and other phone- dependent services are secure for the digital -first era will be vital to the success of any business, no matter how large or small they may be.

To find out how we can help you, call us on 020 4599 1365

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