With just two years to go until all landlines as we know them will be disconnected, the Great British Switch Off is looming large, writes Matt Dexter, Head of Business Partnerships, Openreach.
As we race towards the last days of the old analogue PSTN platform it feels like we still have a mountain to climb with just under nine million analogue lines over our network left to convert to digital alternatives. The good news is that we’re now churning through these legacy lines at the rapid rate of around 80,000 a week. That’s a thousand customers migrating off the WLR network every two hours. Much of this has been turbo charged by full fibre networks, not least by Openreach, where we’ve now built to 12.5 million premises – halfway to our 25 million target for December 2026 – and we continue at a rate of around 60,000 new premises passed every week. That’s another home or business passed with ultrafast, gigabit-capable broadband every ten seconds.
Providing a further boost is stop-sell for more than 530 priority exchanges where, having built our full fibre network to a majority of premises, we’re no longer selling WLR products. That’s around five million end user customers who will now be moving to full fibre based digital-only services, with a further three million premises under notice for stop-sell across another 340 plus exchange areas.
Back in September we extended this process, announcing a UK wide stop-sell of WLR so that end user customers who are switching, upgrading or re-grading their service where FTTP isn’t available yet can still be upgraded to an All-IP alternative such as SOGEA (Single Order Generic Ethernet Access).
What is also positive is that industry is finally waking up to the need to switch, with recent industry research by Zen indicating that almost all of business leaders (97 per cent) asked are aware that PSTN and ISDN products will disappear in 2025. More than half are also already using cloud-based solutions to integrate their communications channels. The not so good news is that the increased awareness hasn’t spurred more businesses to actually do anything about it. A third of those businesses in Zen’s research admitted they’re still using ISDN, with just one in five saying they have an alternative solution ready.
Part of this inertia is clearly down to some businesses feeling the pinch with the rising cost of living leading to nervousness in investing in new digital platforms like cloud-based comms. But equally worrying is the revelation that around one in ten businesses are aware of the stop-sell, but just don’t know their next steps, with SMEs seemingly more at risk. Zen’s research also revealed that nearly half of the businesses surveyed say that the next possible point of contract renewal/termination with their traditional telephone supplier is more than three years away, with around eight per cent needing to wait more than six years. The danger here is that once the switch-off date comes around a significant number of businesses will be spending money on legacy communications systems that just won’t work.
But what steps does a reseller need to take to move to ALL IP and help nudge their own customer base towards a digital future? If you buy directly from Openreach and don’t have your own Openreach LLU/Access Locate Network you will need to decide who you are going to buy through. You will have a broadband and minute provider, and that would be the best place to start if you have not been proactively engaged by them to date. Most of the larger players in the channel will now be either working closely with Openreach or their wholesaler to be able to support ‘washes’ of resellers’ bases so they can understand what connectivity assets they have and which of those can move to either FTTP or SOGEA.
The majority of our customers are proactively looking to migrate their customers and are providing their partners with everything they need to know, such as Gamma’s Make the Switch campaign or the Copper to Fibre Hub created by TalkTalk Business to help their partners know where to go and what to do. Another important consideration is rationalising your base – and asking the question... do you still use everything you have in the ground? There’s a good chance that when you open the curtain on your WLR base that some of what you are billing for will be no longer needed. Trimming the fat here will allow you to make cost savings and ease the pressure of change on your customers.
It’s not just networks that are evolving, the way we work is also changing. This is another reason for acting now and getting ahead of the curve. Furthermore, the trend towards remote or hybrid working continues to grow. Meanwhile, companies continue to diversify the communications they use, increasing their reliance on video call and web chat. Clearly, there’s no time to waste in migrating your customers to All IP.