Even though BT announced last year that they will start to deactivate the ageing ISDN telephone network in 2025, many businesses are still not aware that their telephony system may need replacing before the network is switched off for good. If left too late, businesses will find themselves in a fight with other stragglers, vying for priority installation from suppliers, like trying to get served first at a busy bar on a Friday night, before the day comes and the network is permanently decommissioned.

What is ISDN and why is it being deactivated?

Over the years, bandwidth requirements for both home and business users, have risen dramatically; our media files are much larger thanks to higher-resolution photos and videos, streaming services and video conferencing. The introduction of SaaS products, like Office365 and Adobe Creative Cloud, has also contributed to the increase. The demand is still rising, and the copper-based ISDN infrastructure was never intended to handle the sheer amount of traffic we now send and receive on a daily basis.

Having been installed in the late eighties, the ISDN network has served the UK with reliable telephone and dial-up internet over the past quarter-century and BT recognised that, because of this vast increase in data usage, the network is no longer fit for purpose. Since November 2017, BT and Openreach have been exploring withdrawal strategies, with the cessation of new sales planned for September 2023.

Upkeep costs have increased, engineers familiar with the technology are becoming harder to find (most have now retired) and the reliability of the network has dropped significantly given its age, lack of maintenance and replacement parts. Providers have since looked to more modern technologies, like Ethernet and Fibre, as better alternatives.

What does the ‘Switch Off’ mean for my business?

If you’re still using ISDN telephony you will need to change in the next few years, or at some point, all you’re going to hear is a dead tone. The good news is that you have until December 2025 to switch and the new alternatives, like VoIP and SIP Trunking, are tried and tested solutions that will transmit your calls through your internet connection.

Not only do these services handle far more connections per line than ISDN ever could, but they also open up telephony to a host of other feature-sets. Integration with Microsoft services, email-based voicemails, mobile twinning and much more are now possible and will help to streamline business operations.

Depending on the size of your business and how recently you upgraded your internet connection, you may or may not have the technology ready. As a general rule of thumb, an office of 10 or less requires a minimum of 5 Mbps download and 2 Mbps upload to handle VoIP functionality. However, considering all the other demands on your internet connection, (internet access, cloud access, backup, etc.) many – if not most – will require an upgrade to ensure their telephony solution stands the test of time.

How will the ‘Switch Off’ affect the billing of telecoms services?

Data usage will increase, and line rental will become a thing of the past. However, for resellers and billers alike, the number of rating and bundling packages will increase substantially with the various add-ons that businesses will purchase alongside their new VoIP and SIP technology.

For billers to remain competitive, hosted billing systems will become an essential tool to facilitate the mass adjustment of rates when exploring strategies around how best to optimise margins. Cloud-based billing solutions are also much better at uploading CSR data; given the massive bandwidth available to cloud services, the information can be collated in almost real-time.

In the coming years, 5G and IoT will increase data usage even further, therefore cloud-based billing platforms will further prove their necessity for the continual growth of billers, especially those who deal in the mobile space.

Some smaller businesses may even forgo landlines completely, as mobile telephony has become the go-to method of contact for most of us in our personal and business lives. This further emphasises the need for billers to assess their platform’s efficacy and ensure that they are flexible, scalable and powerful enough to handle the almost-exponential increase in data that shows no signs of slowing.