Why the big ISDN switch-off is good news for everyone
We’re at a pivotal point in the European telecom industry, with many European PTTs planning to switch off ISDN and PSTN lines by the middle of the next decade, writes Bertrand Pourcelot, the director general of Centile Telecom Applications. BT will stop selling those lines in 2020 and will turn them off completely by 2025. Phase-out of ISDN by Swisscom and Deutsche Telekom is already happening, with Orange ceasing ISDN in 2020.
Surprisingly, despite the imminence of this major change in the telecom industry, awareness – let alone action – among business users seems patchy. Perhaps it is a bit like the end of analogue TV in the UK a few years back, where many people left it until practically the last minute to get their heads around what were the alternatives.
Regardless of whether businesses are tuned into the change or oblivious, the great ISDN switch-off represents a huge opportunity for service providers in the UK and mainland Europe. Any business currently using ISDN from one of the PTTs who have declared their intent to cease these lines has to find an alternative solution. Sure, some of them will wait until the last minute, but with many businesses reviewing their telecoms before then, this is a chance to point out to them that the alternatives to ISDN are better, so it makes sense to act now and start reaping the benefits straight away.
Educating the market and presenting an array of options is good news for both existing service providers and new entrants, or service providers currently competing against PTTs. Existing service providers will benefit from the huge cost savings of not having to support ISDN anymore and are likely to offer seamless migration to SIP-based services to business customers who have not made the transition by that time.
The beauty of this is that while the technology changes, the service essentially stays the same, although there are some potential added benefits to end users too. These include number portability (the number is attached to an IP address, not a physical location); the ability scale volume of lines up and down; disaster recovery (calls can be rerouted); and by having data and voice on one platform, opening up the gateway to more integrated, unified communications.
This is where the opportunities for other service providers, those who do not already provide ISDN, comes into play. By and large, regulatory barriers have been removed, so there is no reason why ISPs cannot offer full IP-based services in these countries. Plus, the new generation of cloud and hosted IP-based communications platforms, service providers no longer need to make major investments in infrastructure. The entry-level and risk are both significantly lowered. The scope for innovation is immense: service packages; tailored solutions for vertical markets; more internationalised services; and new pricing models.
There is the opportunity to open business users’ eyes to a whole new generation of unified communications services, as well as offering them true fixed mobile convergence (FMC). After all, if they are forced to make a change, why not help them to make sure any decisions are a real step forward and not just a replacement? Examples include integration with enterprise apps such as CRM and ERP, making them easily accessible from any device, including their smartphones. Nor is this blue-sky thinking: it is already possible.
With the example of service providers like Finland’s Elisa, mobile first strategies are now within the reach of any service provider or their customers. For businesses with increasingly mobile workforces, with employees more dependent on the phones in their pockets or bags, it makes sense to put mobile services at the heart of business comms, rather than as an addition.
The big ISDN switch-off is a catalyst that while benefiting incumbent PTTs, is also creating a potentially more level playing field, where a wide variety of service providers can compete for business customers. There is a sea-change from the old telecom world that is equipment and location focused, to one where the service and the customer experience is everything. Everyone is set to win from the ISDN switch-off: incumbent PTTs, competing service providers, and above all, business customers.