Are Irish firms ready for The Big Switch Off?

Legacy ISDN and PSTN networks will soon be consigned to history as voice over IP becomes the standard. Shena Brien from IP-Telecom outlines the future of telecoms for businesses.

In an era where technological advancements are driving rapid change, the telecommunications industry stands at the forefront of innovation. As countries worldwide embark on infrastructure updates to enhance connectivity, what impact will this have on the Irish telecommunications landscape and how will we adapt?

The Big Switch Off marks the eventual phasing out of ISDN and PSTN networks in the UK. Both companies and individuals will no longer have access to PSTN and ISDN services beginning in September 2023, and the outdated technology will be completely retired by 2025.

“As the industry gradually phases out outdated technologies and embraces more efficient solutions, Ireland’s telecom landscape is poised for a different trajectory”

Similarity, this is the case across the EU. Indeed, since the mid-2010s, nearly all telephony has become voice over IP (VoIP) based, with ISDN and PSTN networks already shut down across a lot of the continent. Estonia has been 100% VoIP since 2017, with Germany, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Norway and Denmark having switched fully to VoIP in recent years. 

Meanwhile, in Ireland, according to CSO statistics, consumer usage of fixed-line telephones in Ireland has been progressively dropping over the years, with a reduction from 86.9% of homes having a fixed line in 2004 to 59.2% in 2019.

Within business, the situation is somewhat different with almost all businesses having some form of fixed line telephony as their main point of contact, albeit with many companies utilising virtual landlines via softphone applications.

Currently, there is no fixed date for the ISDN and PSTN networks switch-off, rather, a gradual upgrade is underway, primarily through the rollout of fibre broadband – which is a critical infrastructure requirement – but no commitment as to when we will be fully VoIP. 

Pandemic future shock

The COVID-19 pandemic acted as an accelerant, revealing the urgent need for robust, flexible, telecommunications infrastructure. With remote work having become the new norm, businesses are now acutely aware of the importance of equipping their employees with reliable and efficient communication tools.

The pandemic reinforced to business the necessity of future-proofing their telecommunications, encouraging companies to invest in modern technologies that can withstand unforeseen disruptions, as well as the new way of work. 

With the emergence of fibre and AI, carriers are eager to sunset their old technology and embrace more efficient and reliable solutions. This is a once in a generation upgrade that will see the vast majority of customers provided with a broadband line, landline calls will be made using a handset in the same way as today but will use VoIP technology that uses an internet connection. Most people have been using this type of technology for years through video or voice messaging apps used on connected mobile phones. VoIP offers many benefits such as the ability to make multiple calls simultaneously, scalability and integrating their calling with business processes such as customer relationship management software to produce better customer service experiences.

The switch to VoIP can be particularly helpful for rural businesses, our clients that made the switch can work on their land while still being contactable – they are not anchored to a desk. As noted above, in a Post-Covid world, hybrid working and the future of work are front of mind and in the media and this new technology means you can be location agnostic, and as many continue to evaluate the new world of work, this is a vital component. 

Leaving legacy

If the migration from legacy infrastructure is carried out in accordance with a transparent timeline and conditions, including an adequate notice period for the changeover, this shift will be immensely helpful to Irish companies as unified communications grow more prominent in today’s contemporary world. In Ireland, the phase-out of analogue landlines and transfer to new technology is projected to be gradual. This shift is reminiscent of the recent effort to eliminate certain non-geographical numbers, which took the industry nearly two years to communicate successfully.

Whilst nearly all modern networks are fully fibre based, the infrastructure modernization programme to retire the remaining copper in the network will most likely follow a similar timeframe –  taking enough time to guarantee a smooth transition for companies and consumers alike. However, when it comes to any sort of upgrade for  businesses, quite reasonably wanting to maximise the lifetime of their legacy telephony investments, may find themselves inadvertently behind in the way their business processes function without a set end date for these services. 

As the telecommunications landscape evolves, new skills and expertise will be in demand. While some job roles may become obsolete, the majority of employees can be retrained to meet the changing needs of the industry. The telecom sector has historically shown resilience when adapting to new technological advancements, and this transition will be no exception. In the Irish telecommunications sector, there is a unique dynamic and forward-thinking approach for Ireland’s carriers. As the industry gradually phases out outdated technologies and embraces more efficient solutions, Ireland’s telecom landscape is poised for a different trajectory. Rather than succumbing to mass layoffs, the focus will be on retraining and equipping the workforce with skills aligned with the evolving industry needs. 

There is an exceptional opportunity to be had with this generational shift to a fully VoIP based world. We can learn the lessons from those countries that have already made the switch and ensure that Ireland’s telecommunications infrastructure remains future-proof, fostering growth, and enhancing connectivity for businesses and individuals across the nation.

The important thing is to develop a roadmap for this, and that this plan is achievable and in a reasonable timeframe that the whole industry can work towards.

Shena Brien
Shena Brien is co-founder and CEO of IP Telecom, an Irish-owned telecoms carrier offering innovative, leading-edge communication solutions to businesses of all sizes across Ireland and the world. The company has developed its own cloud-based telephone system to provide its customers with excellent call quality, customer service and technical consultancy.