Martin O’Donnell, Managing Director at Zen Business gives an overview of the upcoming changes to the UK telecoms network and explains why businesses need to prepare now for the switch from copper to cloud.
Structural changes in the UK telecoms network are on the horizon, and plans are already in progress to transition away from the long-standing copper-based networks that have been in use for decades. Although they served the UK well in this time, they have remained largely unchanged in recent years, meaning they are no longer capable of delivering the reliable, high-performance service that we have come to increasingly need and expect. In other words, as new technologies, demands and working practices emerge, our infrastructure must evolve to support them.
The phase out, known as the copper stop-sell, will see communications providers withdrawing product ranges that rely upon the old Openreach copper network – the existing system that is quickly becoming a legacy technology by today’s standards. PSTN and ISDN products (public switched telephone network and integrated services digital network respectively) will no longer be sold come 2023, with a complete switch off taking effect in 2025. Not only will new copper connections be unavailable as a result, but it will also prevent the taking over or restarting of stopped copper lines that had previously been withdrawn from service. Likewise, bandwidth modifications, communication provider transfers, and the addition of broadband lines to existing installations will also cease to be possible following the switch.
The transition will see copper-based telephony services being slowly suspended in favour of cloud-based alternatives – a viable, long-term replacement. However, as it stands, many telecommunications providers and businesses are heavily reliant upon the existing network, creating a problematic communications landscape for businesses to navigate going forward.
A long-awaited transition
The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to businesses’ growing need for a new solution. With a heightened reliance upon strong, reliable connectivity over the last 18 months, and drastically changed communication habits emerging off the back of hybrid working models, technology has had to adapt and improve to accommodate.
Cloud-based solutions have quickly become a logical alternative – a natural evolution away from the ageing copper network that now provides a suboptimal service. In fact, cloud is gaining traction in the UK, with early adopters having already integrated it into their communications channels. By providing flexible, remote, and reliable services, cloud communications can certainly cater to the UK’s high benchmark for broadband connectivity.
Indeed, cloud-based systems are not restricted to a fixed line at a fixed location. Instead of having an old copper line connection that carries both voice and data, it facilitates a single, fast data connection that also carries voice calling and unified communications tools – such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype. The scalability, accessibility, and efficiency that this offers makes it a considerably more sustainable method of communication in the hybrid working era in comparison to its copper predecessor.
On this basis, cloud-based solutions should be seen as an opportunity to embrace, enabling businesses to modernise their communications as part of the ongoing digital transformation. As a trend that is set to accelerate, this unified replacement has considerable potential in upgrading the ways businesses communicate, empowering productivity and seamless communication. Getting on board now will therefore stand businesses in good stead going forward.
Mass uncertainty across UK businesses
Although the switch is already underway, and the extended timeline is scheduled for the not-so-far future, there is currently mass uncertainty on the switch across businesses in the UK. In fact, according to our research, almost one in four (24%) businesses are unaware of impending changes to the UK telecoms network and are oblivious that the Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) voice and broadband products – which are supported by the copper-based network – will stop being sold completely in 2023.
Alongside this alarming lack of awareness, the potential communications crisis that would ensue if businesses fail to prepare for the switch poses significant concern. Businesses that are currently reliant on copper may be further investing in soon-to-be outdated systems which will no longer be functional, only to find themselves grappling with the prospect of upgrading shortly after – and rushing to do so in time.
At risk of being cut off entirely, the culmination of copper could impact essential technologies that businesses rely upon on a daily basis, such as card payment machines, security alarms and escalator phone lines. Businesses could find themselves at a dead-end, unable to keep up with the next generation of communications.
Time to act now
Going forward, businesses would benefit from partnering with a company that can assist with the transition, providing necessary guidance to devise a future-proof cloud-based communications strategy. Thankfully the stop-sell is not happening overnight, affording businesses the time to fully prepare and improve their cloud literacy.
Looking toward the key stop sell and switch off dates, businesses must ensure they’re aligned on that strategy from top to bottom. While there is no need to panic, with plenty of time to research options, putting in the groundwork now can avoid inevitable challenges, such as poor customer experience or disengaged employees, arising later. Support from senior business leaders will help to kickstart the process and ensure there is widespread buy-in across the company.
As we move into this new era, it’s also important that businesses fully understand that their communications strategies, including the tools used, need to be continuously reviewed. What’s more, with technology ever-evolving, businesses must be agile and adapt; they simply cannot afford to be complacent, and at risk of playing catch up.
Although the prospect of modernising can be intimidating, businesses should start to consider their approach. Doing so will prepare them to not only to navigate the evolving communications landscape, but also embrace the opportunities it brings. Looking ahead, the copper-cloud switch should be a key consideration on business’ forward-thinking agenda.