Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    OPINION What BT’s switch off of ISDN and PSTN means in practice

    Alan Partington and Rob Johnson from Telecom2 assess what the switching off the BT’s ISDN and PSTN services in Salisbury this week mean for the wider move to VoIP

    As of the 1st of December 2020, BT Openreach began the process of retiring the ISDN and Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTN). BT has informed Ofcom that the analogue (or TDM) PSTN network will be shut down and replaced by IP in 2025.

    As this is a gradual transformation, rather than an overnight switch off, the initial reduction has started in Salisbury, where there will be a halt on selling new PSTN and ISDN lines.

    This halt will result in a mass migration across to VoIP. Telephone and extension wiring will need to be plugged into a broadband router, or VoIP line adaptor, to receive telephone service over the internet. While, technologically, VoIP is very similar to free services, such as WhatsApp or Skype, Ofcom has yet to regulate much around IP, creating a tricky situation for consumers and communication providers alike.

    This lack of regulation was initially displayed in the narrowband Market Review, where OFCOM felt that regulating IP Interconnect wouldn’t be necessary. They hoped there would be enough providers and, therefore, competition to discourage price discrimination. A similar approach was taken with Access Charges in the NGCS unbundling exercise, and the lack of provider competition has resulted in excessive charges.  Not only does this create an unfair environment for consumers, it also heavily damages the reputation of the phone-paid services industry.

    Currently, the agreement between BT and other communication providers for Interconnect is regulated by OFCOM. In consultations issued thus far, OFCOM has shown a general reluctance to regulate the IP environment. This gives rise to serious commercial risks, as exemplified in the current unregulated IPX agreement, that work as a barrier for entry into the market. Under  the current IPX agreement, there is no formal review process. BT has the right to make changes to certain sections without consulting with the industry. The following conditions are unlikely to be relaxed and – if anything – will be built on.

    BT is currently able to:

    • terminate an agreement immediately if it feels that traffic is not good faith, even if the CP is not aware of the issue giving rise to that suspicion
    • terminate the agreement on 30 working days notice for “any other reason.” In short, they can terminate your interconnect with very little justification, which would be catastrophic to your business.
    • refuse a request for services if they “reasonably” consider there is a fraud risk. What BT considers reasonable may be considered highly subjective and, therefore, creates a dangerous ambiguity

    So, what can you do?

    OFCOM is taking this opportunity to review the future use of phone numbers and voice revenue share services. One consultation and a call for inputs has been and gone, but there are sure to be more in the future. Your say could help to shape the changeover from ISDN to VoIP for the better, so make sure you keep an eye out for any opportunity to get involved.


    Alan Partington is compliance manager and Rob Johnson is CEO at Telecom2

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