The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) has formed the backbone of the UK Telecoms industry for over a century, but this legacy technology will finally be switched off at the end of 2025. This is part of a nationwide upgrade project, which will transform the UK’s digital infrastructure within the next 10 years. Consumers won’t notice any difference to their landline services, which are now predominantly fiber anyway, but for some companies who use the old copper cable network, this is going to present a significant logistical challenge.
Why the change?
Technology has moved on significantly in the last 20 years and the analog technology of the PSTN, is clearly no longer fit for the modern world. It is an outdated system relying on aging equipment that is in short supply, and even the engineers who maintained it are no longer around. Digital communication technologies have surpassed analog, with voice calls being digitized and delivered using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and routed over either fiber lines or using cellular connectivity such as 4G or increasingly low power wide area networks (LPWAN).
There are many far superior alternatives to the PSTN, so theoretically there should be no problem in hitting the ‘Off’ switch, but we are not just talking about the end of voice calls over traditional landlines here. There are countless non-voice applications that still rely on the PSTN, such as broadband services, alarm systems, ePOS, door entry systems, lift communications, telemetry, etc. New robust, easily installed and reliable solutions are needed for each of these applications, and as the switch off date fast approaches, companies must take action now.
Which industries are most impacted?
The utilities sector, especially the water industry, has always relied heavily on SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) and other industrial control systems, to monitor and control their infrastructure, connected via the PSTN. Outstations use this network to send and receive voiceband data and in the most remote locations, the PSTN also provides a vital SOS line for isolated employees. This system always worked well due to its universal availability, high reliability and low operating costs, but with the switch off looming, an alternative is needed.
Utility companies are currently in the process of considering what their best alternative solutions might be. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to introduce new technologies, and to improve their efficiency and reliability at a much lower running cost, so they need to get it right.
The lift industry is also under pressure to find the most optimal replacement for the PSTN for their emergency communication lines, because since 1999 legislation means that every lift in the UK and Europe must have this functionality. After 2025, analog telephone lines and auto-dialers connected to lifts, will fail to dial out if a passenger tries to place an alarm call. Lines currently connect to mains power with battery back-up and involve a huge amount of complex cabling and equipment, which also relies on costly engineers to maintain. A new solution has to be found for every lift up and down the UK still connected via the PSTN. This presents a unique opportunity to upgrade the existing basic functionality, whilst also reducing costs.
Cellular connectivity is the way forward
Inevitably, as the above examples demonstrate, the PSTN switch off presents some significant logistical problems. Thankfully there is one suitable solution to solve these issues in the form of cellular connectivity. It is not only the simplest and fastest deployable solution, it also is one of the most reliable, offering ‘always on’ connectivity with multi-network access via roaming or dual SIM solutions. Not only that, but it is highly cost-effective, robustly data secure and requires minimal hardware which can be monitored and adjusted remotely.
In the energy sector, 4G and LPWAN (Low-power Wide Area Networks) are able to provide far more sophisticated and robust data transfer solutions, which are also more efficient, more reliable and lower cost. For utility suppliers, going through the due diligence process carefully now, well ahead of the switch off, will ensure that they are partnering with the best connectivity provider for their needs.
Lift off to a superior service
Solutions providers in the lift industry will benefit from roaming SIM cards, which can connect to the strongest network signal from multiple available networks. When using M2M (machine to machine) SIMs, low usage charging is available without any drop-outs due to inactivity. By making the switch to cellular, they will also be able to offer their customers increased functionality, such as the installation of CCTV in lifts, which has already proved to be invaluable in medical emergencies and dangerous situations.
By overlaying a VPN (Virtual Private Network) all data generated, can be accessed securely via two-way communications transmissions, enabling remote monitoring and analytics. An additional benefit is remote monitoring and maintenance of network infrastructure, saving time and money on expensive engineers, equipment and transport.
Trusted connectivity partners will find the best solution
The PSTN switch off may present a lot of issues, but it is also a great opportunity to take a technological leap forward, which is why it is so important to find a connectivity partner with extensive experience, who understands the challenges that companies face. By working with a trusted connectivity partner, companies can remove the complexity when building and deploying a connected solution, allowing them to scale and connect seamlessly to a choice of networks. Accreditations like ISO27001, demonstrate best practice for information and data security processes.
The best connectivity partners can offer an astounding array of functionality and service, and a fully integrated end to end solution will take these more traditional industries to the next level in terms of performance. As time goes on and new cellular technologies roll out, they will reach a few levels above that too. This is an exciting time and a golden opportunity, but only for those companies who plan ahead and choose their partners wisely.
Hao Shi, Solutions Consultant, Arkessa, part of Wireless Logic Group
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