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What the ISDN switch-off means for your business

by | Industry News

Providing an exemplary customer and employee experience has never been more important as businesses face challenging economic times. But major changes to the UK’s communications network infrastructure look set to impact how we all communicate with customers and colleagues.

In this blog, Stephen will be discussing what you need to know about the upcoming ISDN switch-off and what action you should be taking now as a business.

About Stephen Hackett

Stephen works as a CX Advisory Consultant at 186Kloud, which helps businesses to identify and deploy best-in-class technologies to deliver improved productivity and team collaboration, and an enhanced customer experience.

Stephen has a wealth of experience in communications technology spanning nearly 30 years.

Video calls, Zoom and hybrid working: these words are part of our daily work lives now. But just 10 years ago, few of us had even heard of these terms.

Digital communications has completely transformed the way we work. But there’s another communications revolution on the way that will impact businesses of all shapes and sizes, up and down the UK.

In 2025, Open Reach, which manages the telephone network in this country, is switching off PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Networks) and ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Networks). The switch-off will affect voice calls and it will also affect some non-voice services such as CCTV, alarms and door-entry systems.

Similar schemes are being rolled out in other countries across the globe.

Employee happiness graphic

What is ISDN?

Introduced in the UK in the 1980s, ISDN is the network that enables businesses to connect their in-house telephony to the outside world. ISDN runs over PSTN networks – a web of copper wiring buried beneath the ground. Many of these PSTN lines have been in place since the 19th century.

But PSTN and ISDN are costly to maintain and outdated in our rapidly changing digital world.

What will change from 2025?

After 2025, businesses will need to make calls using VoIP (Voice over IP) over the Internet. This offers many benefits for businesses, including:

  • Greater flexibility – allowing you to connect from anywhere with an Internet connection
  • Lower costs (quicker set-up and maintenance)
  • Increased reliability – no more interruption to business calls if a digger cuts through your underground cables or if there is a fire, flood or snow preventing your people from getting into the office. 
  • The opportunity to unify your telephony with other communications within your business. 
  • Scalability – allowing you to expand your network as your business grows. 

Unfortunately, many businesses are still very much reliant on legacy ISDN services. According to one study, nearly 69.5% of UK firms are still using landlines and 59.7% of businesses interviewed did not know about the big ISDN switch-off.

So, it’s vital to take action now to avoid disruption to your business services when the time comes. The industry will struggle to meet demand if businesses leave it until the last minute to make the switch.

The perfect storm of the pandemic

The pandemic forced firms to look at their legacy communications infrastructure which had been designed for the office environment and not for staff working from home for long periods. Employees in many firms diverted their office lines to their mobiles. This provided a partial solution, but it did not provide the same customer experience. Employees couldn’t transfer their calls to colleagues from their mobiles, as an example.

Lots of companies just muddled through with a mix of different technologies until they could all return to the office. But they hadn’t accounted for one important factor – the work landscape had changed during the pandemic. Employees’ expectations had changed.

According to the 2022 State of Hybrid Work study, employees cited the lack of a flexible work location as one of the top three reasons for not accepting a job offer.

In separate research published by the Office for National Statistics, 84% of workers who had to work from home during the pandemic said they wanted to continue with a mix of office and home working in the long term. More than three-quarters (78%) said that being able to work from home gave them an improved work-life balance and half found that they completed work more quickly from home (52%).

So, for businesses, there are dual pressures. The old legacy ISDN network is being switched off in 2025. But employers are also realising that, to attract the best talent, you’ve got to enable employees to work remotely and give them the tools to do this effectively.

It’s what I call the perfect storm of the pandemic, which has accelerated the need for new cloud telephony. Business leaders who are looking ahead to these advances and planning for them will emerge as the winners.

What cloud telephony can offer your business

Cloud telephony offers far more than just a telephone service.

There are lots of options available on the market – such as RingCentral and Zoom. RingCentral is the market leader, bringing together voice, team messaging and collaboration, video meetings, webinars and a contact centre. So, the ISDN switch-off provides a real opportunity to unify your communications using one platform.

Employee happiness graphic

With RingCentral, you can take your telephony platform with you anywhere. You can use the app on your mobile phone, your desktop and take calls directly from your computer. But you will need a stable 4G Internet connection for cloud telephony to work effectively.

So, imagine you’re working for an investment firm. Your receptionist could take an important customer call in an Internet café and transfer this call to Jenny, the Operations Director, who is on a beach in the Caribbean. The customer still has the same high-quality interaction regardless of the location of your team – the customer doesn’t need to know that your employees are all in different places, and you no longer need an expensive city office.

But RingCentral and other similar products can do a lot more besides. Imagine that you work for a gas company. One of your customers phones to report a fault reading on their boiler display. You have repair technicians embedded within your call centre.

Your technician has a video call with the customer to troubleshoot using your cloud telephone network. He diagnoses a problem with the timer, which can be ordered immediately in readiness for the technician to install during his first and only visit – reducing the customer’s time without a working boiler and increasing your repair team’s productivity.

Imagine if a vulnerable customer calls the same gas company. He is very concerned about his bills during the cost-of-living crisis. Your cloud-based telephone system recognises the customer’s concern, using sentiment analysis. The call is diverted immediately to a member of staff who is specially trained to deal with these enquiries. The team member is able to reassure the customer and put together an affordable payment plan.

As you can see from these examples, the potential possibilities for cloud telephony are limitless.

 

What you need to know about the ISDN switch-off

So, if voice telephone calls are important to your business and you want to prepare for the switch-off, what practical steps can you take now?

Here are my top tips:

  • If your business is still using ISDN lines, find out when your current contract ends so you can plan ahead.
  • You have two main options. You might be able to get a SIP trunk upgrade for your existing telephone system. SIP trunking differs from VoIP in that it depends on an on-site telephony system – it does not use the cloud. If you want a ‘work-from anywhere’ solution to provide a coordinated customer experience, you need cloud telephony.
  • Make sure you have good Internet connectivity and upgrade your line if needed.
  • Think carefully about the kind of features you’ll need from cloud-based telephony. Are you looking for video calls, IVR dial-in options, call queuing and other features?

Planning ahead now will give you time to look at which technologies best suit your needs and budget. If you’d like to find out more about the options best suited to your business, please do get in touch.