No time to waste

How is Openreach preparing stakeholders for the withdrawal of PSTN services? Matt Dexter, senior manager, business development accounts, Openreach, shares his thoughts.

In just two years all landlines as we traditionally know them will be disconnected and everyone will need a new digital line. Despite the looming deadline – it feels like we still have a mountain to climb. There remains just under 9 million analogue lines over our network that are yet to convert to digital alternatives.

The good news is that we’re now churning through these legacy lines at the rapid rate of around 80,000 a week. That means a thousand customers are migrating off the WLR network every two hours.

Much of this has been turbocharged by the frenetic expansion of new digital full fibre networks, not least by Openreach. We’ve now built our network to reach over 12 million homes and businesses, with that continuing at a rate of around 60,000 new premises passed every week.

Providing a further boost is stop-sell, with more than 530 exchange locations no longer selling WLR products. That’s around 5 million end users who will now be moving to digital services. Another positive is the industry is finally waking up to the need to switch.

Recent industry research by Zen indicates that almost all of business leaders asked (97 per cent) say they’re aware that PSTN and ISDN products will disappear in 2025. More than half are already using a cloud-based communication to integrate their communications channels.

The not so good news is that the increased awareness hasn’t spurred more businesses to do anything about it. A third of those businesses in Zen’s research admitted they’re still using ISDN, with just one in five saying they have an alternative solution ready. Some of this inertia is clearly down to some businesses feeling the pinch with the rising cost of living leading to a nervousness in investing in new digital platforms like cloud-based comms.

Equally worrying is the revelation that around one in ten businesses are aware of the stop-sell, but just don’t know their next steps, with SMEs seemingly more at risk.

Zen’s research revealed that nearly half of the businesses they surveyed say that the next possible point of contract renewal or termination with their traditional telephone supplier is more than three years away, with around 8 per cent needing to wait more than six years.

The danger here is that once the switch off date comes around, a significant number of businesses will be spending money on legacy communications systems which just don’t work.

A digital future

There’s clearly no time to waste, but what steps does a reseller need to take in order to move to all-IP and help nudge their own customer base towards a digital future? If you buy directly from Openreach and don’t have your own Openreach ‘LLU/Access Locate Network’ you will need to decide who you are going to buy through.

You will have broadband and minute providers today, and speaking to them would be the best place to start if you have not been proactively engaged by them to date.

Most of the larger players in the channel will now be either working closely with Openreach or their wholesaler to be able to support ‘washes’ of resellers bases so they can understand what connectivity assets they have an which of those can move to either FTTP or SOGEA.

The majority of our customers are proactively looking to migrate their customers and are providing their partners with everything they need to know. For example, Talk Talk Business has created their own Copper to Fibre Hub to help their partners know where to go and what to do.

Ahead of the curve

Another important consideration is rationalising your base – and asking the question ‘do you still use everything you have in the ground?’ There’s a good chance that when you open the curtain on your WLR base that some of what you are billing your end users for will be stuff they no longer need. Trimming the fat here will allow you to make cost savings and ease the pressure of change on your customers.

It’s not just networks that are evolving – the way we work is also changing, which is another reason for acting now and getting ahead of the curve. The trend towards remote or hybrid working continues and, at the same time, companies continue to diversify the communications they use. For example, many organisations are increasingly using video calls and web chats.

Switching to digital services allows for new cloud-based unified communications that can integrate multiple platforms. Whilst businesses may not save direct costs by switching to cloud computing, there will be opportunities for savings compared to on-premise systems with a workforce no longer just based in an office.

Crucially, the cloud enables businesses to remain flexible and efficient which is vital in this landscape of uncertainty and rapidly changing customer demands.

This article appeared in our December 2023 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.