Joe Sheppard, head of marketing, CSL, talks to Comms Business about how critical services can be migrated to digital ahead of the PSTN switch-off.

The public switched telephone network (PSTN) is scheduled to be withdrawn in December 2025. Before that can happen, the telecoms industry must upgrade all remaining PSTN lines to all-IP.

CSL is one company working to get organisations and businesses onto digital alternatives. CSL provides managed connectivity solutions that support mission- and business-critical IoT applications.

Historically, many of these solutions used PSTN lines and, although digital alternatives are available, the company is of the view that more action is needed to ensure all lines will be upgraded in time.

Joe Sheppard, head of marketing, CSL, outlined the company’s concerns. He said, “We’ve got over 3,500 customers across a range of industries including the security, fire, and telecare markets, where we provide critical services. If those systems aren’t upgraded, and the telephone line goes down, then the service won’t work.

“If your security alarm isn’t functioning, your insurance would be invalid. If your fire alarm isn’t upgraded, it could be disastrous. If the signal cannot be sent, the fire brigade will not be notified and the premises would be at risk.

“Then, when it comes to telecare, our biggest concern is that vulnerable people could be left without the right care. Everyone is in agreement that can’t happen, and there is concern, but not enough has happened and funding is an issue in the telecare world. As you move forward, technology does cost more. And many services are provided by local authorities who don’t have the funds.”

The backlog risk

There are numerous barriers to migration, and there is a risk the industry could be left with an unmanageable backlog as we get closer to the switch-off.

Sheppard explained, “Some decision-makers want to wait until they have a problem. At that point, they’ll look into it, make the upgrades and fix it. But there are millions of lines. When the migrations ramp up, there won’t be enough equipment, there won’t be enough time, there won’t be enough engineers.

“We’re aware that, at some point, it will turn to chaos because there will be a backlog and that’s when the issues will stack up.”

Sheppard discussed the potential risks of not carefully upgrading telecare. Some users could need to enter an assisted living facility or even be admitted to hospital without the safety net of telecare. He emphasised, “You can imagine the strain that would put on services.”

Back of the queue

The technology to make those upgrades is available, but the industry is facing an uphill battle to ensure decision-makers understand the urgency.

Sheppard said, “Some local authorities have already upgraded to digital alternatives and a lot of security installers have done the same, where possible. This can all be upgraded, future-proofed, and there is a pathway there. But every day that someone delays their upgrade, it just means the backlog towards the end of this process is just going to get bigger and bigger.”

CSL is a National Champion of Fit To Switch, a Comms Business campaign to raise awareness and educate businesses about potential risks when the PSTN is withdrawn. Sheppard said the company joined the campaign to help build momentum across the UK, so businesses and people are prepared for the switch-off.

He explained, “We need a sense of urgency because a lot of decision-makers aren’t quite aware of how drastic this will be. They need to realise that this isn’t just happening to them. Their upgrades will need to happen in the midst of everyone else also upgrading. If you don’t act soon, you could end up at the back of the queue.”

Benefits of digital

CSL’s perspective on the impending switch-off, Sheppard explained, is shaped by the company providing critical connectivity.

The company is finding new opportunities to upgrade lift alarms and emergency lines that, whilst critical, have not required upgrades given the underlying PSTN connection has worked until now. CSL recently launched VoiceLink, a PSTN to 4G VoLTE converter for lift alarms and emergency lines.

Sheppard said, “Our telecare, security and fire systems are all about transferring data packages. But VoiceLink includes that voice element. This is slightly different, but a requirement for many lift alarms and emergency lines. We’ve created a solution and we’ve already got some good opportunities to help businesses make those upgrades.”

Concerns around preparations for the switch-off can create a negative perception of the shift to digital. But Sheppard explained that, once all PSTN lines are migrated, businesses, organisations and citizens will benefit from improved critical connectivity services.

Sheppard said, “Digital solutions can give customers or users a much better service. The insights and the analytics that are provided by the digital services are far superior to what we have today. That said, in some instances where the system is still working, we don’t have to upgrade the whole system.

“We can convert the PSTN element to digital, and that can be quite cost effective if people don’t want to upgrade their whole system.”

This interview appeared in our February 2024 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.

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