What’s all this talk about BT switching off its ISDN phone service?

BT released a statement in 2015 that it would stop taking new ISDN orders in 2020, with a view to switching-off and deactivating its ISDN network  completely in 2025.

So, if you’re determined to get an ISDN phone line installed, you’d better do it quick, and you’d better make sure you won’t have any need for it after 2025!

Let’s wind back a bit. What exactly is ISDN?

ISDN (short for Integrated Service Digital Network) is a circuit-switched telephone network system that allows both voice and data services to be delivered over digital lines simultaneously. It was launched by BT in 1986 as a means to migrate outdated landline technology to digital.

When it launched, businesses got excited about ISDN because it could support both an analogue phone line and early video-conferencing systems. At the time, it also offered the fastest internet access available (128 kbps).

The faster speeds and better connections that ISDN allowed meant data could be sent quicker and with little to no distortion, providing a better overall experience than previous antiquated systems.

With the introduction of new broadband internet access connections like DSL, WAN and Cable Modems, ISDN itself is now pretty much an outdated legacy system. Despite this, it’s often used as a backup phone system in the event a main line fails.

What’s the real reason behind the ISDN switch-off?

Like all commercial decisions, it’s driven by cost and profits. While the infrastructure that underpins ISDN has been significantly overhauled and upgraded since it was first launched by BT in 1986, the network has remained pretty much unchanged.

BT has invested heavily in VoIP, so it doesn’t make any sense to invest further in its legacy ISDN network. By converging all of their services to IP, BT will be able to focus their resources and energy into a technology that will allow it to meet the demands of businesses in the future.

What’s BT going to replace ISDN with?

For some time now, BT has been making plans to move all of its voice network over to VoIP (voice over IP).

VoIP — unlike traditional solutions — does not run over copper lines, making them and line rental redundant. The only thing you need is an active internet connection.

40% of the UK market has already recognised that switching to a VoIP solution provides a number of key benefits.

Aside from being a more modern, progressive technology, VoIP has many advantages for businesses over PSTN and ISDN:

  • It’s much quicker to provision new lines.
  • You can reduce your line rental because you’ll need fewer physical lines.
  • It is incredibly scalable and flexible – e.g. pairing a SIP line with a cloud-based telephone system can give you the ability to easily transfer calls between offices and locations, to use your work line whilst anywhere in the country and to see which members of your team are available to take calls.

What should businesses do to prepare for the ISDN switch-off?

If you’re one of BT’s 2 million ISDN customers, you have until 2025 to review your options and make the change (before the network is switched off).

As crazy as it might sound, for many businesses today, ISDN is still the best service they can get. According to Ofcom’s 2018 Communications Market Report, there were 33.1 million fixed landlines in the UK in 2017 (including ISDN), and approximately 6.4 million of those belonged to businesses. It’s imperative that BT can provide businesses with access to an alternative service long before the 2025 deadline.

If your current ISDN phone contract is up for renewal soon, now is the right time to start exploring the option of switching to VoIP and SIP technologies.

The practicalities of switching from ISDN to VoIP

Switching from ISDN to a VoIP/cloud-hosted phone system isn’t as complicated as you might think.

The first step is to get a spec together outlining exactly what your business definitely needs and maybe some “nice to haves”. Then you can do some online research or call some cloud telecom providers to see what they offer. This should get you to a point where you have some options to consider and prices to compare.

Assuming your business is in an area that has access to VoIP technology, you need to consider two things:

Is your internet connection good enough to deliver VoIP?

While VoIP doesn’t use very much data when compared with other services like video, you still need enough bandwidth to deliver voice on top of everything else your office does. Some VoIP providers suggest 5Mbps down and 2Mbps up as a bare minimum for a small office, but really the bandwidth you need depends on your individual needs and Quality of Service (QoS) priorities. The reality is, if you don’t have enough bandwidth or a QoS commitment you could experience poor audio quality or intermittent service and miss out on the full benefits.

Does your office phone system support VoIP?

Most new office phone systems already support VoIP, but if yours doesn’t, you can either replace your entire phone system with an IP one (worthwhile if your handsets are looking tired). It might also be a good time to think about switching from a fixed, on-premise phone system to a cloud-hosted telephony service. This way, you get to manage your phone system via an online control panel hosted in the cloud.

Don’t forget: because of the savings to be made on VoIP calls and line rental, you should be aiming to lower your overall telecom costs, while at the same time increasing the call features and functionality at your disposal.

Should I talk to someone about my options for switching over from ISDN?

Yes, almost certainly. We’re already helping a number of UK businesses transition from their legacy ISDN systems to our cloud-hosted phone system. Everything from number porting to hardware setup is managed by our customer onboarding team whose job is to make the move as painless as possible.

If you want one of our ISDN migration team to chat through your options, just fill in your details below and we’ll call you at a convenient time. No obligation, no fuss.

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