ISDN switch off: Time is running out to make a real killing

A close-up of the end of a network cable, with points of multi-coloured light behind it against a black background

The story of communication is one of evolution. From cave paintings, to the printing press, to the telephone, to instant messaging and voice calls, we are always looking for newer, faster and more flexible technologies to help us. Of course, as some technologies develop, others will fall by the wayside - much as the Pony Express was usurped by the telegram, which has since been displaced by more modern offerings.

We're currently on the brink of another such change, with BT's planned switch off of ISDN and PTSN lines in 2025. When BT stops selling new ISDN lines in 2020, businesses using the existing 3 million lines in the UK will have no option but to begin exploring IP-based communications. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the channel, yet with 2020 less than three years away, time is running out to react.

Approaching from both ends

Whether you're dealing with a traditional ISDN service provider that needs to adapt to the new IP business model, or an IP specialist or newcomer looking to take advantage of new ground, the task facing channel businesses is the same. If there's no plan in place to convert ISDN customers to IP, the business is potentially walking away from tens of millions of pounds of revenue. There's currently every opportunity to open new revenue streams by offering businesses of every size, in every industry, the tools, services and support they need to modernise their communications.

The simple fact is that communication has moved on leaps and bounds since the first VoIP calls in the 1990s, and the channel should be more than able to allay any concerns that their potential customers may have.

The wider picture

For instance, as the UK struggles to guarantee high-speed broadband across the whole nation, businesses in more remote areas may be unwilling to swap their well-understood, if slow, ISDN connection for a less-trusted IP connection. However, there are already examples that disprove these fears. BT is not the only company to switch off ISDN and PSTN connections: SwissCom is also phasing out ISDN lines by the end of 2017 in favour of IP based services.

This transformation has already demonstrated the benefits of IP lines; such as greater flexibility, higher bandwidth, lower costs, and most importantly, IP itself has helped allay fears around speed. Even an area with a limited broadband connection is likely to see better speeds than the 128kbps ISDN provides; meaning switching to IP will open up far more options to the business - and, happily, their channel partners.

Give me more

Similarly, a number of businesses may not see the benefit of the additional services beyond voice that IP affords, including instant messaging and video, all of which could provide valuable revenue streams for the channel along with the management and support needed to keep these services operational. The channel must be able to show how these additional methods of communication can help a business. This means making them understand that the way in which we work is changing; today's workforce expects to be flexible, while the workplace itself could be almost anywhere.

Communicating over IP, instead of fixed lines, is one of the great transformations that will help businesses adapt to this change, as well as making it easier and cheaper to communicate with potential customers and partners anywhere, at any time, over any channel. If this is made clear, then businesses should begin to welcome the opportunity to keep up to date at a fraction of the cost of trying to stick with the old ways.

An olympic effort

Communication is the heart of the modern business, and the ISDN switch might be the last chance for the channel to capitalise on this. However, time is of the essence - by the time of the Tokyo Olympics, businesses that have been hooked on ISDN lines will find that the ground is shifting beneath their feet. If the channel can guide customers through this new landscape, their efforts will pay off handsomely. Otherwise, they will have to settle for scraps from the table.

Paul Clarke is the UK Manager of 3CX