Why channel firms need to tune into the PSTN switchover

connected team concept

We’ve all had the feeling at one point or another where we put off a job - not through a lack of willingness to work - but because the task is so important or wide-ranging that it’s difficult to know where to start.

The same can be said for the attitude of the telecoms community and its customers towards the upcoming public switched telephone service (PSTN) switch off, with the final aspects of the change scheduled for 2025. Our research showed that while 92% of channel firms’ customers are aware of the wholesale line rental (WLR) withdrawal, under half are actively preparing their strategies.

Clearly, there’s both a responsibility and a huge opportunity for the channel here; a responsibility to clearly define and explain the PSTN switch-off to their customers and opportunities to guide businesses through the journey to an all-IP world. All of this must start with clarity about what’s actually happening, however.

What is the switch-off and why is it so important?

Put simply, the current network in the UK used for telephony is more than 35 years old and has been co-opted in many cases to be used for broadband - where it was designed with just voice connectivity in mind.

Openreach looks after this network, consisting of the fibres, wires and cables that span the country. Through its work, the huge amount of copper wires (which consists of the PSTN for voice and the integrated services digital network (ISDN) for both data and voice) has been used as the basis for voice and data services.

All the while, fibre networks are being installed across the country. These have worked side-by-side to provide telephone and internet services - which is why, historically, you’ve needed to install a separate phone line when selecting an internet package. But with the installation of these fibre networks, and the vast improvements in data speeds and capacity they bring, it’s clear that the PSTN and ISDN copper networks are no longer fit for service.

Connectivity for the future

There are currently four options available to customers accessing data services in their business or home, based on connectivity and locational availability.

These include an all-copper connection, fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), fibre to the premises (FTTP) and single order generic ethernet access (SoGEA).

Much of the UK’s copper networks have already been replaced with fibre which connects the exchanges to cabinets with high-speed fibre, but the final mile of connectivity into a house or business is then provided on copper lines. While both all-copper and FTTC connections are available in some capacity, they’ll soon be redundant, given Openreach will turn off the underlying WLR over which broadband is supplied by 2025.

The next few years will see the rise of two new systems, including the powerful FTTP, which sees customers’ premises directly supplied with fibre cables, offering speeds of up to a gigabit per second and voice-over-IP (VoIP) calling. Investment in FTTP, however, is focussed on built-up areas, and won’t be rolled out across the wider country for many years. An alternative to this model is SoGEA, which follows the FTTC model, but allows customers to access broadband services through a single line.

The switch-off is already underway and will be carried out in stages, which is one of the strongest messages the channel can convey to customers. Openreach, at the moment, is operating with a dual approach which needs to be clarified and explained to customers as early as possible.

Rising to the challenge

The first aspect is WLR withdrawal, which involves the switch-off of copper-based connections by December 2025. Simultaneously, the FTTP exchange is underway. Once an exchange area is 75% covered by FTTP, then a ‘stop sell’ comes into effect, where there’s a limitation on the selling and supplying of copper-based services. Currently, over 160 of these exchange thresholds have been reached and communication providers notified. Crucially, this means that if a business is based in an area that is making good progress with FTTP rollout, then they might have a lot shorter timeframe to get acquainted with full-fibre technology.

Clearly, this advancement does need a somewhat technical understanding of connectivity and, for many businesses, it could prove difficult to understand precisely what’s happening. The role that channel partners must play is fundamentally that of the educator and communicator, proactively explaining these messages and timeframes to businesses and making sure they have a clear understanding of what’s happening.

The next stage is to press home the benefits, which again may not be clear to all. Advancements in speed, more flexibility, easier installation and increased mobility are all aspects of the digital switch-over that will affect businesses of all shapes and sizes. So, the channel needs to prioritise these messages in order to educate and excite their customers about the changes and the improvements they’ll bring.

Of course, this messaging serves a dual purpose, positioning the channel as having the expertise and knowledge that businesses need to take advantage of to manage their digital switch-over, installations and the best route for their underlying connectivity.

We’ve all had a great mentor, be it in education, a hobby or in the workplace, that has calmed us down when we’re overwhelmed, set out the options we have and clearly showed us the route to improvement. Businesses aren’t dragging their heels because of a lack of willingness, but because they’re perhaps waiting for the right expertise to come along, and guide them through such a fundamental shift. This is the position the channel needs to take, and that which will reap the biggest rewards in the run-up to 2025.

Gavin Jones is channel sales director with BT Wholesale