Rishbeth: 'At last a plan'

The postponement of Openreach’s trials speak of an industry very much finding its feet in the run up to 2025. Here, Focus Group CTO Vicki Rishbeth addresses the key questions facing many comms providers.
Were you surprised by Openreach’s decision to delay the Salisbury and Mildenhall PSTN closures?
No, because the plan to restrict services at the end of the trial period had not been communicated prior to the end of January. This gave channel partners a short timeframe to communicate what the impact would be on businesses. Without a clear plan it has been difficult to encourage some end users to take the shut down seriously.

What will be the impact of service restrictions?
They are an enabler for us to help companies through the digital transformation. But success depends on the CP’s approach to the PSTN switch off and their comms strategy with customers. We try hard to ensure we are contacting the right people with up-to-date messaging and advice via our Engagement Team, portal, email campaigns, website and webinars. And I’m passionate that our end users will not find out about the changes via a loss or degradation of service. This is challenging due to the lack of API access to our Openreach data, which, similar to many other acquisitive channel partners, can be across multiple accounts, and due to the competitive nature of our thriving channel subject to churn.

Is the PSTN switch off delay a wake up call for the industry?
This is the biggest challenge our industry has ever faced. But it is also an opportunity to help transform the way the UK does business. Clear parameters from Openreach help us to take people on this journey. It should not be a wake up call or a surprise to an engaged CP. Yes, Openreach is taking the shutdown extremely seriously. But also, the time frame is ambitious considering the number of assets remaining.

Where does responsibility for 2025 success lie?
The responsibility should be shared between Openreach, the CP community and DCMS to communicate and support the transformation. The onus is also on end users and the business community to actively engage. No single party can complete this transition without full participation of all the key actors.
Do Openreach’s measures bring the 2025 deadline into sharper focus?
It’s is an unprecedented project, particularly due to the way the telecoms industry is set up in the UK with a thriving channel. Openreach is working hard to try to forge ahead but there is no blueprint to follow. Now, I am looking forward to more certainty around the proposals, a robust plan for exceptions, orphaned assets and assurances that when transitions begin to ramp up there is adequate support to migrate services and telephone numbers at volume.

I’m passionate that our end users will not find out about the changes via a loss or degradation of service

Anyone following the glide paths of the conversions over the last few years would have seen the slow conversion rates. There are many reasons for this, but as we enter the phase of withdrawal in the two trial exchanges, and the subsequent tranches, we will have a better idea of whether the planning will be sufficient enough for the industry to move towards the 2025 deadline at pace.

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