The PSTN switch-off: What does it mean for SMEs?

Digital infrastructure will define the economies of the future, and it is clear the ageing copper wires that have transported communication signals around the UK for more than a century are no longer fit for purpose.

The public switched telephone network (PSTN) has been in use in parts of the UK since the 19th century, but these copper wires were designed to carry voice signals not terabytes of data and cannot compete with newer technologies like fibre optics and satellite links.

For a number of years the UK has operated two telecommunications systems side-by-side, with home phones still reliant on the PSTN network, whilst businesses have been slowly transitioning to a Voice over IP (VoIP) world. It became clear to BT back in 2015 that the future was VoIP, and the telecoms giant announced that they would finally switch off the PSTN system in December 2025, giving businesses and consumers 10 years to upgrade their networks.

A decade may seem lime a long time to give businesses to upgrade, especially with VoIP services generally offering more functionality at a lower price than staying on the legacy PSTN network. However, we are now half-way through this transition period and many businesses are still unaware that they need to make any changes.

What the switch-off means for you

Change can seem daunting, but the reality is that the shift to VoIP is a big upgrade that should make services better, more reliable, and cheaper. And even if you have never heard of VoIP, the chances are you have already used it in some form whether making a call over WhatsApp, Skype, or FaceTime.

Traditionally, if you needed to get additional phone lines for your company, you would need to contact BT and get them to lay physical wires and connect you at significant expense. VoIP changes the process entirely, as you simply have a single fibre-optic cable to your premises through which all your data flows, and so whether you need one line or 50, it is as simple as filling out a form and paying the subscription – no engineers required!

BT has already started to restrict the installation of new PSTN and ISDN lines, so the chances are if you have needed to add extra lines in the last couple of years, you would have been nudged towards VoIP already. And with the PSTN switch-over coming in just four years, any new telecommunications system you invest in now should be VoIP based.

Timing your transition

If your business currently depends on PSTN for its connectivity, then it is time to investigate your options so you can make the transition as smooth as possible. You should start by auditing your current requirements for fixed lines, which includes everything from phones lines to CCTV cameras and payment terminals, and then research the best connectivity options for your business, whether that is a fibre-optic cable to your premises or a 5G connection that does away with the wires completely.

VoIP requires a decent amount of bandwidth to function effectively but calls themselves have very low bandwidth requirements with modern audio algorithms able to shrink speech audio down to a few kilobytes per minute. Video calls are a different matter entirely, however, so if you plan to use more video calls then you should make sure you have significant bandwidth available.

For companies that are unsure of the best way forward, then firms like Ringover will help you create a roadmap for your specific business priorities and budget taking into account current and future requirements.

Benefits of VoIP for SMEs

  • No more expensive hardware installations.
  • Lower costs
  • Work anywhere, call anywhere
  • Additional cloud services
  • Simple security and upgrades

Make the change today

So, what are you waiting for? Get your business ready for the big switchover and start enjoying the benefits of cloud VoIP right away.

Photograph by Miryam León