What You Need to Know about the PSTN Switch Off

Posted on: 2016-07-05 | Categories:VoIP VoIP Services | Tags:pstn switch off

In spite of the continuous growth of VoIP technology – whether it is through SIP trunks or hosted services – the PSTN still remains the dominant channel for voice communication in many developing nations, not to mention large areas in industrialized countries as well. Quite a few businesses and households have delayed the transition to IP based calling for a number of reasons, not least because the PSTN is still supported by phone carriers.

Even as industry analysts have predicted that VoIP will become the dominant standard, there was no definite discussion about the cutoff date for PSTN systems and services. In fact most people likely think of it as something that will happen ‘sometime in the far future.’ Well, that far future is finally here.

Why is PSTN Switch Off Happening Now?

In most of these countries, the PSTN operators are governed by legislation and common carrier obligations to maintain the PSTN network even if it becomes too expensive or there are too few customers to make it economically viable.

Additionally VoIP services have only recently begun to add some of the features long since available on PSTN networks such as faxing, emergency dialing etc. With quality and reliability reaching the same levels (in some cases, far exceeding) as that offered by analog phone lines, VoIP is no longer playing second fiddle to the PSTN.

In the face of regulatory change and increasing feature parity between VoIP and PSTN, the time has come to talk about the ‘IP transition’ or ‘PSTN switch off.’

PSTN Cutoff Dates in Various Countries

In many countries such as Ireland, operators have indicated their willingness to switch to IP to the relevant authorities but regulations still need to be changed. On the other hand, there are also operators such as Orange France and BT in the UK that have already specified cutoff dates for the transition.

The French telecom operator Orange has already informed the French authorities of its intention to cut off the PSTN network, although a specific date has not yet been revealed. Both business enterprises and individual households should be ready for the transition, which is most likely to happen by 2020. The French regulator has already said that it will not oppose such a move but also specifies certain requirements. These requirements include providing alternate and equivalent services before shutting down the PSTN and also a five-year advance notice for customers.

Similar discussions and preparations are also underway in the UK and Germany by Deutsche Telekom and BT. While BT has targeted a date of 2025 for the switch off, it will no longer provide new services or systems for customers starting from 2020. Deutsche Telekom is far more aggressive targeting a date of 2018 for the transition to VoIP. While 2025 may seem a long way off, it is not too soon for businesses to begin preparations.

In the US, carriers such as AT&T have already started trials of VoIP services and the FCC has already declared its intentions of allowing providers to switch off the PSTN after the needed preparations. The concerns of the regulators are similar to that of the French authorities i.e. customers should not face a decline in the quality of service or any disruption as an operator moves over to IP calling.

What Can you do to Prepare?

For many businesses, there is not not much that they need to do as a significant percentage have already migrated to some form of VoIP – be it SIP trunks or external hosted services. Nevertheless some organizations retain at least a couple of landlines as backup, to provide fax services or to so as communication for security systems and so on. In reality, all of these features are also supported by VoIP albeit not by all vendors. Some companies may have to switch their provider to one that does offer such compatibility.

For businesses and households that have not yet started using VoIP, now is the perfect time to do so. At least for individual consumers, 5 or 10 years is a long way away. But businesses need this time to prepare. They will need to retire their existing systems, search for alternatives, compare vendors and switch over to VoIP. depending on the size and requirements of the business, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few months so it is best to get started immediately.