Two-thirds of SMEs yet to consider impact of Openreach analogue and ISDN switch-off

Survey by network services provider reveals worrying lack of preparedness amongst SMEs regarding support for remote workers ahead of the end of analogue copper services form BT broadband provision division

For the vast majority of the UK’s small businesses, just coping with the day-to-day disruption caused by Covid-19 has been enough of a priority, but research from Spitfire Network Services is warning of a looming problem to hybrid and remote workers regarding the upcoming replacement of legacy comms services.

Specifically, the survey from the telecoms and IP engineering solutions provider noted how UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) haven’t considered how the analogue and ISDN switch-off by UK broadband network provider Openreach will affect employees working remotely.

Indeed, it revealed that 66% of SMEs surveyed hadn’t considered how the work of those employees working remotely – a significant number given the imminent adoption of hybrid working by companies of all sizes – could be affected by the removal of their standard tools and equipment.

At the heart of the matter is Openreach’s ambition to transition more than 14 million traditional lines across the UK onto new digital service by December 2025, a time that the company says the old analogue phone network (PSTN) will have reached the end of its life and new, digital services will be in use.

Following its decision to shut down the PSTN, Openreach agreed to test processes for migrating customers to fibre services – and, ultimately, withdrawing legacy copper services and the withdrawal of wholesale line rental (WLR) products that rely on them – in two locations. Salisbury was the first exchange in the UK to move to stop sell status in December 2020, and in May 2021, a Mildenhall trial began in earnest.

The trials will see the delivery of telephone services over broadband connections, such as single order generic ethernet access (SoGEA), its faster upgrade SoGfast and single order transitional access product (SOTAP) over which providers can deliver broadband and IP voice services.

The test in Mildenhall was also specifically designed to allow Openreach and communication providers to test and develop new products and processes to make the migration smooth for customers including those who rely on special services like lifts and alarms, and it’s in this area that trouble could lie ahead.

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Openreach’s switch-off process will see services switching off at exchange. The first stage is to announce a “stop sell” date for each exchange. After this date no new affected services can be ordered and changes to existing services, no matter how minor, cannot be made. There are already over 200 exchanges that will be in the Stop Sell phase by January 2022.

Yet one alarming issue emerged from the trial: Openreach found that if users had anything connected to a phone line such as a care or security alarm, they would need to check with the equipment supplier if their devices could work over the new digital fibre network.

Moreover, older telephones – currently powered by the local telephone exchange – could be cut off from the new network if there was a power cut. In this scenario, Openreach advised that users may have to “do something different” to make home phone calls.

Spitfire noted that the list of devices that could be affected included analogue voice telephone services and any service that uses these lines including dial up devices, fax, alarm systems, modem, building management systems, lift lines, PDQ machines, ISDN 2e, and ISDN 30e lines which are mainly used by phone systems.

Commenting on the study and the ramifications for businesses, Spitfire Network Services sales director Dominic Norton said: “With the pandemic shifting the way businesses operate in terms of remote working, it’s quite concerning to see that these workers could be severely disrupted yet businesses don’t actually know how and when.

“This survey has been a real eye-opener,” he said. “Clearly there is a long way to go, so once again our message is really to take action now and avoid disruption further down the line. If you’re a business that will have people remote working long term, this is as important to you as it is to office-based companies.”

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