Telecom infrastructure update 'could cause widespread disruption across UK'

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Alarm lines, traffic light systems, payment terminals, payphone lines, medical devices and external connectivity to telephony systems could all be impacted by BT's planned update to the UK's telecommunications infrastructure, a supplier of telecom services has warned.

BT's plans to withdraw PSTN and ISDN lines in 2025 could severely affect services provided by councils in England and Wales, according to cloud and managed services company Maintel. 

A Freedom of Information request conducted by the company revealed that 23 of the 40 councils across England and Wales that responded (56 per cent) have no strategy in place for the withdrawal of the networks. In London, the number rises to 70 per cent. 

In 2015, BT announced the withdrawal of Wholesale Line Rental (WLR), Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services, marking the biggest change in 30 years to the UK's telecoms industry. 

First installed in the UK in the 1980s, the equipment used for the PSTN network is becoming less reliable, as well as harder and more expensive to maintain. As part of the switch, customers will be switched over to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and full-fibre technologies, which rely on an internet connection instead of the traditional telephone lines used by PSTN.

While the PSTN and ISDN switch-off will not take place until December 2025, all WLR products will be removed from sale by September 2023, the company has warned. Organisations currently relying on PSTN and ISDN services will need to migrate them to new digital alternatives.  

Failure to ensure a smooth migration of these networks is expected to cause "widespread disruption," Maintel predicts, impacting most public services, from schools to hospitals. 

“Failure to plan for the WLR withdrawal deadline could have a huge impact on organisations, their users and their citizens," said Dan Davies, the company's chief technology officer. "Without services such as alarms or lifts, which rely on PSTN lines, offices and hospitals will not meet safety standards and will be forced to close. Telephony systems that connect to the outside world via ISDN could also be cut-off, potentially impacting critical services.”

Although there is still 12 months until the services are updated, Maintel has warned councils of the severe supply chain issues that the industry is currently facing, and which could delay any migration initiatives that are not planned with enough time in advance. 

At the moment, networking technology supplies can take up to 12 months to arrive, the company said.

“The past two years have delivered huge uncertainty, but the 2025 deadline for the PSTN and ISDN switch off is one thing that’s for certain," Davies said. "Councils must act now to ensure services can continue to function.” 

The majority of councils that do have a strategy in place revealed that the new services will be almost exclusively fully fibre-based, to ensure they can integrate seamlessly with other next-generation services. The councils revealed they expect the update to be completed by 2025, when traditional copper phone line services will be withdrawn.  


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