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UK businesses urged to move away from ISDN in 2023

Research warns that as analogue switch-off approaches, only 15% of SMEs and 20% of large businesses have plans in place to migrate to an alternative technology

Full deactivation of the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is planned for 2025, and the underlying legacy technology will be defunct for many this year. However, research from UK internet service provider Zen Internet has revealed that not only are nearly a third (32%) of UK businesses spending £10,000 or more a year on traditional telephone systems, but there is a general lack of awareness and preparation among businesses relying on these services to maintain connectivity.

The 2022 data which forms the basis of this research was derived from a survey conducted among 100 CEOs and 400 IT decision-makers in large businesses and 500 IT decision makers in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK during August and September 2022. A large business was defined as one with more than 250 employees, and an SME is considered as having between one and 249 employees.

At the heart of the issue is the decision taken by BT broadband division Openreach in 2019 that the old analogue phone network (PSTN) will have reached the end of its life by 2025, and that new, digital services will be in use. To make good on its plan nationally, the company will need to transition more than 14 million traditional lines across the UK onto new digital services. Following the decision to shut down the PSTN, it was agreed to test processes for migrating customers to fibre services and, ultimately, withdrawing legacy copper services and the wholesale line rental (WLR) products that rely on them.

The programme is intended to result in homes and businesses not being able to buy copper broadband if they are upgrading, regrading or switching telecoms provider, and instead will only be able to order fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP or full-fibre) broadband networks. Voice services will be an add-on to broadband, rather than a service in its own right. Even though a third (33%) of businesses were still using ISDN as their underlying communications infrastructure, telecommunications providers will have to comply with a stop-sell order as soon as 2023.

Yet while the Zen study showed that 97% of businesses were aware of the upcoming stop sell, less than one in five (17%) businesses said they already have an alternative offering, the same levels as found in a similar survey in 2020. Those either migrating to an alternative solution or assessing their options has increased from just over half (53%) to 70% in this time, while 9% are not clear on the next steps to take.

Smaller organisations are further behind. Just 15% of SMEs are armed with a formalised plan to migrate to an alternative communications technology, compared with 20% of large businesses. Without adequate preparation, these organisations could find themselves in a situation where their external communications tools are no longer fit for purpose, with severe implications for day-to-day operations.

The study also revealed that the cost-of-living crisis in the UK was impacting infrastructure investment. Three out of five organisations (58%) were concerned the cost-of-living crisis will negatively impact future communications investment, with just over half (52%) saying their digital transformation scaling has been put on hold as a result.

Read more about UK analogue comms switch off

Despite concerns raised by the research, since the last time the research was conducted in 2020, more businesses have identified am appropriate future communications service. Over half (56%) of business leaders confirmed they already use a cloud-based communications service to integrate their communications channels, up from 50% in 2020.

Meanwhile, a third (32%) were prioritising investing in cloud communications in the next five years. 40% are also already using Session Initiation Technology (SIP), allowing users to make voice and video calls on a global scale using computer and mobile devices with an internet connection.

Nearly half (45%) of businesses believe a hybrid phone system will be the option for them, up from 22% two years ago. 54% either already have plans in place or already use a completely cloud-based unified communications offering, up from 52% in 2020.

“Our research emphasises the urgency of the situation for businesses, with many still spending a great deal on technologies that will cease to function in just three years,” said Zen Internet CEO Paul Stobart. “It is not enough for leaders to be aware this is happening – they need to be actively formulating and actioning plans to update and refresh their communications technology.

“It is promising to see over half of the businesses we surveyed looking to transition to cloud communications or unified communications – a truly modern solution that can scale with changing business needs far more easily. As the stop-sell looms, organisations must continue to digitise and keep up with hybrid working demands, by putting enabling technologies in place before it is too late.”

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