By Emma Lewis, bOnline
One of the biggest shifts in telecoms technology in more than 100 years is coming up fast; but many businesses and individuals still haven’t heard about it.
The fact is that in just over two years’ time traditional landlines will permanently no longer work. This is because BT Openreach is set to upgrade the old analogue Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to a fast, secure, full-fibre digital network. It’s also connected to the government’s initiative to launch full fibre across the nation.
Known as “The Big Switch Off”, completion is expected by the end of December 2025 and means that all phone lines must be hosted over Internet Protocol (IP). It’s something that businesses in particular need to be aware of, because it’s not only phone calls that will be affected. Other systems like CCTV and card machines also need to make the shift over to IP. It’s therefore well worth spending this time investigating what The Big Switch Off means for your business specifically, including what each different provider offers and what the costs are.
In short, whilst it’s tempting to put it off until later, now is in fact the perfect time to make preparations. In this article we look at what the change means for small businesses, what the opportunities and challenges are, and what to do next.
Who Will The Landline Switch Off Affect?
Everyone. Both business owners and individuals with a private phone line at home. Although 2025 may seem like a long way off, the changes have in fact already started.
So now is the time to act.
What is the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN)?
Introduced back in 1986, the ISDN was added to the PSTN by BT for the purposes of transmitting additional data that the PSTN couldn’t previously cope with. Video calling is one example.
Video calling back then was clearly in its infancy, with technology and popularity of video calling moving on at pace ever since.
Why is IP Better Than Traditional Landlines?
IP telephony, whether single voice lines or multi-line VoIP systems, offer a much higher quality of calls than traditional landlines. This is because fibre optic cables facilitate a far stronger internet connection. In practice, this means that user can get:
- Lines that develop fewer faults because they’re much harder to damage
- Much faster broadband speeds
- Stronger signal across greater distances
- Stable broadband speeds
What Does The Big Switch Off Mean For My Business?
If your business is currently using ISDN in its operations then the Big Switch Off will affect you.
The Big Switch Off will mean that any technology using the ISDN to run will be shut down. This includes:
- ATM machines
- Dial-up POS (card machines)
- Alarm systems
- Franking machines
- Fax machines
- File downloading
- Video conferencing
- Live streaming
If you are still using legacy systems connected to ISDN once the PSTN has been switched off, they will be lost. Again, that’s why it’s important to act now.
The fact is that the Big Switch Off will affect every area of the economy and every industry. From hospitality and retail to healthcare and construction, businesses will need to make sure they have future-proofed their systems.
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How Should I Prepare For The Big Switch Off?
Now is the perfect time to benefit from better connectivity by laying the groundwork ready for when the Big Switch Off happens.
VoIP is the number one go-to technology that businesses are switching to. The real beauty of it is that SMEs in particular can access enterprise grade features at a fraction of the cost. Indeed VoIP has come a long way since the early days of Skype.
Short for Voice over Internet Protocol, it essentially means data such as telephone calls are made digitally over the internet, rather than via traditional landlines. It simply relies on having a strong (preferably fibre) internet connection, making it incredibly flexible. In fact, VoIP phone systems are cloud-based which means they can be accessed from anywhere in the world on any internet-connected device.
So the first thing to do is make sure your business internet connection is the highest speed it can be.
The next step is to shop around for the ideal VoIP provider. There are many out there, all offering different packages and prices, so you’ll need to do your homework. Your existing internet service provider may offer some options too, and if you need a new router or to upgrade any other equipment, they should be able to advise you.
In terms of other hardware like card machines, if these connect to a physical phone line then you’ll need to change them to a system that uses WIFI. This can all take time and money, so again, start looking around now if possible.
What Are The Other Advantages of VoIP?
VoIP not only means you’re ready for the Big Switch Off but it’s much more secure plus it also comes with a whole host of business-friendly features. These include call divert, voicemail, access to call analytics data, call waiting, hold music and much more. Not only can these mean you miss far fewer important customer (and potential customer) calls, but you offer a more professional, efficient service too.
Furthermore, if your business means making a lot of international calls, you may well find a VoIP phone package significantly cheaper. For example, BT are currently charging up to a whopping £1.55 a minute for calls between the UK and USA. But many VoIP providers will include international calling as a bolt-on, so you can call the USA as much as you like for a fixed, low cost fee.
How Do I Chose The Right VoIP Phone System For My Business?
Choosing the right VoIP phone for your business depends on a number of things, including how many employees need to access it, how many departments you have and where your customer base is primarily located. There are also many different features that come with each package, some of which will be more appropriate for certain industries or sizes of business than others.
When shopping around for the right VoIP system for your business, it’s well worth asking yourself:
- Who in the business will need to use the VoIP phone system?
- Will it make communication and collaboration more straightforward?
- Is it the best value for money possible?
- Will it boost efficiency and productivity?
- Have your staff and customers made any suggestions or raised any complaints about your existing communications?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. Many VoIP providers offer free trials of their systems which can really help you understand the features, how to use them and how they’ll benefit your business before you sign up to a monthly package. The key is in understanding exactly what your business needs – long before 2025 – so you don’t get caught out.