In 2015, BT announced plans to migrate all business customers away from ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) - the traditional infrastructure for business telecoms - by 2025. However, it was recently reported that 25% of UK firms are unaware of the switch-off date, leaving many to question what needs to happen in the next eight years.
While the number of ISDN channels has steadily decreased in recent times, more than two million are still thought to be in use, so there is much that needs to be done before this legacy framework can be retired.
Domestic customers won’t be affected by the changes, as current broadband lines are sufficient to carry high-speed technology, but business leaders all over the country need to take note and make sure their telephony systems are future-proof.
What is ISDN?
ISDN launched in the 1980s, and became widely used in business because of its ability to carry both voice and data services over digital lines at the same time. However, it can no longer deliver the speed or quality of service that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) has enabled, and BT wants to focus on enhancing this newer technology rather than running it alongside the veteran ISDN framework, noting greater investment in superfast broadband as the primary reason for change.
At the heart of this evolution will be the need to move your business communications platform to a fully IP (Internet Protocol) solution. This could mean new or upgraded on-premises equipment and/or migration to a cloud-based system to enable internet voice calling. As well as voice, the IP protocol can simultaneously carry other forms of data such as video, making it much more flexible than ISDN.
Step forward SIP
SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) trunking is a form of VoIP that makes an ideal replacement for ISDN. Some business owners may have reservations about the potential cost of upgrading their entire telephony system, but most SIP solutions are compatible with existing PBX (Private Branch Exchange) hardware.
Moreover, ISDN line rental is much more expensive than leasing SIP trunks, and SIP allows you to benefit from free internal calls and call-forwarding. Additionally, many SIP providers also allow free calls to UK landlines and mobiles. You will need to evaluate your current phone system to see if it’s compatible, but most recent handsets will be designed to accommodate the new technology.
Since SIP makes use of your data connection, providing you have decent, high-speed business broadband, you don’t have to rely on having a fixed set of lines or channels, as ISDN does, so it is completely scalable. Regardless of whether you have one inbound number or 20, or 200, SIP can manage the load. It works on a user-per-license basis, so you can increase, or scale down the number of lines as business needs dictate, making it a perfect solution for companies that experience high seasonal demand, or have a rapidly expanding team.
SIP is also great for business continuity and resilience. By rolling out the correct solution designed by a reputable telecoms partner, your business will be able to continue to make and receive calls, even if your primary place of business suffers an outage. Calls can be diverted almost instantly when disaster strikes, something that can take up to several days with traditional telephony systems. Businesses with multiple sites can rationalize their telephony with SIP and see excellent cost savings and operational improvements.
Future Communications Strategies
The internet-based SIP technology is versatile, allowing non-geographic dialing codes, enabling regional businesses to operate with a London telephone number, if having a presence in the capital is desired.
Remote, flexible working is also easy to enable as smart phones and tablets can connect to the company network, meaning that staff can take their office contact number with them, whether they’re commuting between client meetings or attending international conferences overseas. As Bring Your Own Devices schemes continue to rise in popularity, embracing VoIP technology can certainly see you save money in both the long and short term, negating the need to invest physical hardware and ongoing maintenance.
What do you need to do?
If your current telephony package is soon up for renewal, now is the time to start exploring the benefits of SIP and other forms of VoIP, such as cloud-based Hosted Telephony.
Before upgrading, you’ll have to check whether your Internet connection is capable of delivering VoIP. Although voice calls don’t require much bandwidth compared to other services, such as video, you still need to make sure you have sufficient speed to ensure your office can carry voice on top of everything else. Recommendations vary, but most agree that 2mps ‘down’ and 5mbps ‘up’ should be the minimum level for a small office.
You can then explore the advantages of VoIP. and map-out a plan for integrating the proposed business benefits, such as remote working, greater disaster recovery and speedy scaling.
Admittedly, the 2025 deadline is still a little up in the air, and much depends on how quickly the rollout of UK-wide fibre systems can be introduced - without this blanket connectivity, ISDN will have to remain in place. However, what is certain is that the days of ISDN are numbered, and IP is the future, with 96% of early adopters reporting cost-savings.
2025 may seem a long way off, but now really is the time to review your business’ communications strategy. Moving away from ISDN and upgrading to VoIP early could ensure you steal a march on the competition, making full use of this new technology - and its inherent advantages - before it becomes a necessity.