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The road to 2025: Why the industry must navigate the digital switchover together

The UK is in the midst of a major upgrade to its telecoms infrastructure. To support customers through it, we need to work together.

Alex Tempest
Managing Director, Wholesale, BT

Everyone in the telecoms channel knows what’s happening in 2025.

The national closure of the analogue Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is coming. After September this year, there will be no new connections to PSTN or ISDN lines. And from December 2025, this technology will begin to decommission.

 

This is a massive step forward for the nation’s infrastructure – a paradigm shift as significant for communications as the move from valves to transistors was for computing.

 

Breaking away from aging technologies and legacy protocols is about modernising the UK. It’s about switching over to the future-proof, internet based networks that will connect people, businesses and public services for the next century. It’s about building the digital economy. And with the outdated, legacy hardware no longer fit for purpose, the time to act is now.

So, where does the channel come in?

Communications providers large and small have a duty of care – and a commercial obligation – to raise awareness of the switch-over, and support customers in the move from analogue to digital. This means engaging every single customer that we have, which can be a major challenge if you have thousands or even millions of customers.

 

Here is where sharing resources becomes important. At BT, for example, we’ve recognised the value of giving our wholesale partners tools to not only raise awareness of the switchover and support customers on the product side, but to educate and empower their own people around the topic.

 

As an industry, we must also help customers understand and prepare for the scale of the move. Yes, the national analogue phone network is retiring, but it doesn’t stop there. These legacy networks also connect other devices for businesses – from fax machines to lift alarms and fridge sensors – and to minimise disruption, customers need to get ahead now.

 

Providing this support could mean helping business and public sector organisations make use of communications providers’ dedicated testing labs, which can review any non-voice devices that currently plug into an existing analogue wall socket (these will need to be compatible with IP to work after 2025). It’s also vital we make them aware of the tailored migration support on offer, and services that will allow them to audit, design, develop and deploy alternative connectivity solutions sooner rather than later.

Planning for every scenario

At BT, our expert teams are working with our channel partners and B2B customers alike to embrace modern, digital alternatives and break their dependence on aging analogue tech. However, we know there will be some consumers, businesses and public sector organisations in need of an interim solution to keep them connected as they move between the PSTN and fully digital networks.

 

This includes landline-only and voice-only customers without broadband, and businesses with unique edge use cases where a modern data access network simply isn’t compatible with their existing equipment or comparable products on the market today. For example, use cases that rely on old copper lines to power devices for telemetry and monitoring at reservoirs. ‘Power down the line’ is something that just isn’t possible – or necessary – with modern fibre optic networks.

 

As communications providers, our priority between now and December 2025 is to move customers off the old analogue network and onto IP Connectivity. But we must also support those customers who have no other option – to help them bridge the gap. Any technical stop-gap would be short-term and tactical rather than a long-lasting strategic move, but nonetheless, we must plan ahead.

 

It's for this reason that BT is working on a solution to help keep customers and qualifying edge use case equipment connected, whilst moving them off the PSTN. It’s designed to provide interim connectivity, but only when there is no other option available. Customers relying on this product will need to find an alternate solution by 2030, or upon SOTAP (Single Order Transition Access Product) closure, whichever is sooner.

 

We’re now in the early stages of development of this interim solution. As well as firming up the product design, we also need time to work through the commercial arrangements before developing our systems and processes. That said, we’re hopeful we’ll be able to say more in the coming months, with the product coming to market in late 2024.

 

In the meantime, we’re urging communications providers to register their interest for this temporary pre-digital phone line product, so we can forecast how best to scale it out across the entire UK. This will not only streamline the technical logistics, but it will also help level the playing field across the entire industry by helping others to move their customer base off the PSTN by 2025.

Investing in the future of the UK

From rising to the customer communications challenge to investing in the right level of technical support – the road to 2025 won’t be without its twists and turns. But if we keep customers at the heart of every decision we make, we can work together to get there.

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