September 23, 2020

UK “Hanging Up” PSTN and Switching to All VoIP Services by 2025

The United States isn't the only country undergoing big changes in its communication structure and services. In the UK, a major transition from PSTN, or Public Switched Telephone Network, is underway. The goal is to switch to all VoIP services by 2025.

UK "Hanging Up" PST for VoIP Services

Essentially, the UK will be moving from the traditional landline structure to all IP services. Many citizens already mostly use mobile phones and computer connections to conduct their communications. Although certain other services still depend on PSTN. As a result, UK businesses and private users need to make preparations now for the elimination of PSTN in the next five years. Otherwise, it will be a bumpy telecommunications ride.

Need for Change

Businesses and individuals have already moved to rely more on VoIP technology. However many still use PSTN services as well. The impetus for the switch has more to do with maintenance costs than convenience. The UK used copper wiring when it first established its analogue system.

Openreach, the company in charge of the UK's digital network, has been installing fiber wire for the last decade, expanding the country's broadband service and providing communications that are faster, less expensive and more reliable. Fewer and fewer people are using the old analogue system, and maintaining this copper network has become prohibitively expensive. As a result, the government has decided to phase out of PSTN by 2025.

VoIP Service Transition Challenges

Although VoIP services offer consumers and businesses many advantages, the switch does come with some challenges. The PSTN system is deeply ingrained in UK life and rightfully so. It has been a reliable service for well over a century and provides a comforting back up to VoIP services and mobile phones.

Emergency Services

The transition to VoIP only will affect the efficiency of emergency services. Currently, when a home or business loses power or their fiber wire is cut, PSTN calls are still functional. These landline services prove to be a powerful backup to IP communications. Once that backup is removed, people needing emergency services might be unable to reach them in certain rare circumstances.

To combat this issue, the UK's telecom regulator has mandated that service providers must have a plan in place to provide one hour of backup service in case of an emergency disruption. This "backup window" gives service providers time to correct outages without harming their customers.

The change will affect other services as well. UK utility providers depend on PSTN for remote data collection, analyzing system issues and enacting supervisory controls. Also, burglar alarms, point-of-sale card machinery and other devices still use PSTN technology. That means the companies must take steps now to find alternative solutions for these communication items, a potentially confusing and expensive process.

Broadband Accessibility

Broadband is the preferred choice for many companies, but they cannot always rely on the service. Some UK regions still don't have reliable broadband connections. Not surprisingly, remote rural areas such as the Shetland Islands, West Devon and the Orkney Islands receive slower broadband speeds and pay higher prices than London and other more urban areas for their service.

Before the nation switches to the new IP system, these inefficiencies and inequalities must be addressed. Otherwise, a large portion of UK residents will suffer from unreliable service - a potentially divisive and costly issue.

Call Spoofing

Call spoofing is a scourge in many industrialized nations. Unscrupulous companies send false information through the communication providers so that call recipients cannot identify the real caller. Consumers will often get what looks like a local call only to find out it's a illegitimate telemarketer from across the country or from across the sea. The UK suffers from this issue, just as Canada and the US do, but the British are not as far along in battling it.

The US and Canada are developing a call authentication system named STIR/SHAKEN, and although the name is a nod to Bond fans everywhere, it is currently slated to be rolled out exclusively in North America.

STIR/SHAKEN, or Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens, allows communication carriers to authenticate caller IDs before calls reach consumers. This requires a digital signature that validates the call as it passes through a number of service providers.

Until now, the complexity of these call networks has allowed spoofing to go largely unchecked. STIR/SHAKEN is the first real step toward correcting this issue and protecting consumers from these scammers.

Before the UK switches entirely to VoIP, it must embrace this technology or create a system of its own in order to authenticate phone calls. Otherwise, losing PSTN exposes more UK citizens to these spoofing dangers. leaving them more vulnerable than before.

Final Notes

Although the transition deadline is 2025, Openreach has promised to stop selling its WLR, or wholesale line rental, by September 2023. This means new consumers will not have PSTN access, although line transfers for current customers will be permitted. The big question is whether Openreach will be able to meet the 2025 completion deadline. The process is underway, however, so for UK citizens, broadband is the future, no matter when the switch is completed.

Experts do agree that VoIP is the best choice going forward as long as the providers create reliable procedures, call authentication systems and other necessary safeguards. And the success of the UK venture doesn't just affect its citizens. A successful transition from PSTN to VoIP services could make other countries revisit how telephony infrastructure should be revamped for the future.

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