Accelerating momentum

Sara Sheikh, head of product management, Gamma, explains what the company is doing to raise awareness of the PSTN withdrawal and how it is collaborating with industry to move the needle on migrations.

Openreach is preparing for the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to be switched off in 2025. To help ensure end users are selecting new all-IP alternatives before that deadline, the company commenced a nationwide stop-sell programme in September that means users and their service providers will not be able to purchase any new services or modify existing services that rely on ISDN or PSTN.

Yet the Channel is still finding it difficult to help businesses understand they must upgrade their solutions if they are still using services that require the PSTN.

Sara Sheikh, head of product management, Gamma, explained, “There is just lack of momentum. And we’ve expended a lot of energy in accelerating that momentum, but we are coming up against massive forces of inertia.

“Those forces of inertia are anything from ‘why should I move my base over because I’m making more money?’ to people just not knowing about it. It does sometimes feel like we, as a company, are screaming into the void because there is just a lack of support from everyone else around us.”

Gamma is a National Champion of Fit to Switch, a campaign from Comms Business to educate end user businesses from different sectors about potential risks to their business when Openreach switches off the PSTN network.

Sheikh explained why the company has joined together with industry. She said, “We have expanded [our efforts] beyond our own company, which is where Fit To Switch comes in, because other industry leaders are thinking exactly the same thing as us. We are all looking around and saying: hang on a minute, this is not what we planned for.”

She emphasised what is at stake should the situation remain the same as we count down to that 2025 deadline. “The worry is that, if this lack of momentum continues, we’re going to end up with a lot of customers that need to move in the last half of 2025.

“And we just don’t think Openreach will have the capacity to deal with it and we – as the interface between Openreach, end customers and resellers – will just have to take the weight of that migration. It will literally bring our country to a standstill.”

Connectivity expectations

Business owners and managers are busy running their day-to-day operations and tackling issues like rising inflation and energy costs, so they are not always receptive to industry efforts to educate them about the changes that are coming.

Sheikh said, “Microbusinesses are a big component in terms of the economy, and they are not paying attention because their focus is on the taxi services or the chip shops that they’re running. They’re not paying attention to this – nor should they have to. And when the time comes to pay attention to this, it will be a massive burden for the rest of the industry to take on.”

Sheikh added businesses simply expect their existing services to continue to function without any need to think about what they are using or the connectivity services that enable them.

She said, “Connectivity is like plumbing. You don’t ever buy a house for the plumbing, but you expect it to be there. That’s essentially the situation that these businesses are in.

“They expect for the [connectivity or telephone] service [they are currently using] to continue because they’re paying for it, and they need to be told that they need to move across [to an all-IP alternative] to make sure that service continues.”

Managing overheads

Sheikh explained that a key challenge for many channel businesses in migrating their customer base stems from the “overhead of moving people across”.

Gamma developed a new offering, Simple Swap, to help migrate single line legacy Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) services to an all-IP service. The offering brings together Gamma’s connectivity portfolio, number porting service and its single line replacement solution, PhoneLine+.

Sheikh explained, “One of the things that we saw throughout this migration journey was porting is a dark art. It is an absolute nightmare. And it is going to be a large component of this whole story. If you’re a taxi company, local people have that number saved in their phones and holding onto that number is so important.

“To give them a new voice solution, a new connectivity solution and port their number across – that’s a big order that the reseller will then need to manage. It’s not: press a button and there you go.

“To ask partners to then expand on that, go out and target more customers who have the same use case, that’s taking on a massive overhead for the partner. So, we spent a lot of time developing a way for that journey to be automated.”

Simple Swap was designed specifically for the microbusiness market (businesses with 1-9 users), and arranges SoGEA broadband and number porting in parallel to Gamma’s PhoneLine+ solution to minimise the risk of disruption to all those who rely on their phoneline and broadband connection to conduct business.

But Sheikh explained that this is just one example of simplifying migrations and minimising overheads for resellers. She said, “There is not going to be one silver bullet that can solve all of this. You need to be pushing on all fronts at once to make that change happen.”

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