When Is The ISDN Switch Off?

With the start of BT’s ISDN switch off rapidly approaching, we’ve taken a look at the realities of what BT Openreach are doing, along with a run-down of what you can expect in 2020. With a range of ISDN alternatives available, take a look below and prepared to start future-proofing your business.

When is the ISDN switch off?

ISDN is set to be switched off by BT in 2025, with no new orders being taken after 2020 as part of a 5 year phase out.

What is an ISDN line?

Simply put, an ISDN line is the main carrier and most popular way of making phone calls across the world. The Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) allows you to make phone calls, video calls and other services using digital transmission using a traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Launched in 1986, it allowed BT to move old fashioned landlines to digital, and allowed businesses to simultaneously support an analogue phone line alongside digital data services.

Back then, the speed at which data could be transmitted meant that ISDN allowed for better connections, and even video communication, in a way not possible before.

Why is ISDN being switched off?

In the 80s, 90s and early 00s, ISDN was the gold standard of fast digital connections, allowing data transfer and internet access at 128mbps; the fastest possible at the time.

However, these days systems that use ISDN are a little outdated. Broadband internet connections like DSL, WAN and cable modems have taken connection speeds to a far higher level, and ISDN systems can no longer compete. Although the lines have been completely overhauled since the 80s, they are still basically the same technology, and more or less on a par with traditional phone lines which have been around since the 19th century!

BT’s decision to invest heavily in VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) has also supported its decision to phase out ISDN, as it no longer makes strategic or financial sense for them to update their outdated systems. Moving away from ISDN also allows them to concentrate on more up-to-date technology, and create a service built for the future. However as time passes since the announcement, BT have already faced several challenges.

What are the alternatives?

The future or more accurately, the now of telecommunications is VoIP and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). VoIP doesn’t use traditional landlines to make connections, but instead enables both voice and video calls on a global scale using just an active internet connection. Making the switch not only makes calling far cheaper, but also makes it far easier to set-up as there is no physical lines to be installed. 

In choosing to focus on VoIP, BT are really only following the prevailing trends in UK organisations. Around 40% of businesses have already moved over to VoIP systems, with more following suit every day.

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How to future-proof your business

From 2020, BT will no longer be taking new ISDN orders, and you shouldn’t really be looking to buy a new ISDN system now anyway. If you are in a position where a new phone system makes sense for your organisation, then now is the time to upgrade to VoIP, or consider moving to a hosted PBX system. This is a great option for smaller businesses who want to free up physical space and IT staff time, and want to lower their upfront costs.

However, if you are one of the 2 million BT ISDN customers, then there’s no need to panic. The clock is ticking, but you’ve still got five years before the switch off, and there’s plenty of time to work out exactly what you want to do. You’ll want to do your research and ensure that any choice you make works best for your business. There’s no reason to rush, and for many organisations sticking with their ISDN network for a few more years is a perfectly valid choice.

Once you decide to move to a VoIP system or a hosted cloud network, the process is pretty seamless. Many suppliers may well be able to upgrade your existing system to SIP trunks, meaning you won’t even have to buy a new telephone system. You’ll also need to ensure that your current internet connection provides enough bandwidth to cope with the new network.

What questions should you be asking about the ISDN switch off?

Switching from ISDN may sound daunting but it’s easier than you think. Here are a few frequently asked questions which you should be asking ahead of the big switch:

What is ISDN going to be replaced with?

ISDN will be replaced with IP technology. Most businesses have already made the switch from ISDN to IP technology, with VoIP and SIP being the best and preferred options. Both systems are more progressive modern upgrades and simply rely on an internet connection to work. They’re also less expensive, require fewer physical lines and are more scalable and flexible than ISDN.

What should businesses do to prepare for the switch off?

Lucky for you, you have until 2025 to assess your options and make the switch. Realistically, you can still hold on to and use your existing ISDN for 5 more years and most businesses and corporations probably will, until they absolutely must switch. If your end of contract is approaching, then would be a good time to start considering your options and making the change.

How do I start the process of switching from ISDN to VoIP?

Start by outlining what your business needs and other add-ons that could be beneficial. Now, you can do some online research or call a professional to evaluate prices and benefits of each system. 

To move to VoIP for example, you’ll need to check a few things: 
First, check that your internet connection is strong enough to deliver VoIP. You’ll need enough bandwidth and a QoS commitment (Quality of Service). In simple terms, these factors will ensure that your new VoIP system will have good audio quality and a strong service and connection. 

Second, you’ll need to make sure that your office phone system supports VoIP. Most new phone systems will support VoIP but if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to replace the phone system for one that does. Alternatively, you can move to a cloud-based telephony service. This option is great for remote workers and allows you to manage your phone system via an online control panel hosted in the cloud, rather than an on-premise fixed system.

What are the steps to phasing out ISDN?

The ISDN phase out will be delivered in two stages. The first stage starts now in 2020. Customers can no longer order new ISDN connections; however, you can still use your preexisting one. Then you have up to 5 years to switch and get to the second stage. The second and final stage is the complete switch off in 2025, where you can no longer use ISDN – you should have already switched by then!

What is the cost?

The cost completely depends on which provider you decide to go with! In the long run, the switch from ISDN will be more cost-effective, both for the industry and for your business.

Can I switch over all at once or in stages?

This really depends on your business and how much time the switch will take due to the size and needs of your company. For example, if you have multiple sites or office floors, the switch may take a while and it might be best to break it up, e.g. floor by floor. It also depends on how close the ISDN switch off is when you decide to switch. 

Take into consideration the amount that will need to be switched over. Think number porting, extension lines, current system checks, compatibility and security tests, etc. We recommend doing everything at the same time rather than breaking it up into phases.

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Find out how SIP Trunking can help you effortlessly move from ISDN to modern, future-proof systems.

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