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February 25, 2021

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Alarms

PSTN switch-off: What does this mean to security installers?

Nick Whiting, Head of BT Redcare, explores why installers hold the keys to the UK’s safety and security, and explains how the incoming PSTN switch-off is set to impact them.

Nick Whiting, Head of BT Redcare

From bells-only systems and 999 diallers, to connected modems and devices that rely on the public switched telephone network (PSTN), the evolution of alarm signalling has seen many versions come and go. Today, we look at a new landscape, one that is compiled of all-IP solutions that provide always-on connections via IP and/or mobile connectivity. These devices are smarter and faster and, crucially, will continue to perform past the switch-off of the PSTN by 2025, unlike the many legacy solutions that are still in use.

While the devices themselves have evolved, the process of installing and getting them operational hasn’t hugely changed for the end-user. That’s because they engage with an installer who handles it all for them – the process remains relatively straightforward. For the installers, however, changing solutions can mean new training, equipment, suppliers and so much more. They hold the keys to the UK’s safety and security and yet they are the party most burdened with the change.

Therefore, in this article, we’ll take a step-back to fully explain what the PSTN switch-off means, how it will impact installers, what steps they can take to ensure the burden is alleviated through their ecosystem, and how they can truly add value to end-customers by keeping them safe and secure now and in the future.

What is the PSTN switch-off and why is it important to installers?

Openreach looks after the fibres, wires and cables that connect the country including the analogue phone network known as the PSTN. In other words, it provides the infrastructure that keeps everything connected and working. For decades, the PSTN has supported several wholesale products, such as the Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) suite (e.g. traditional phone lines), which are used to carry the analogue signals for legacy voice communication.

These have worked side-by-side with fibre offerings to provide telephone and internet services. However, the PSTN is reaching its end of life with the copper lines no longer sufficient to provide for the growing demand for faster connectivity and higher bandwidth. As such, Openreach is withdrawing support and all connections will need to be fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), Fibre to a point nearer the premises with copper used in the ‘last mile’, or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), a fibre connection all the way to the premises.

So, why does this matter to alarm signalling? Because it’s not just telephones that rely on the PSTN, legacy alarm signalling solutions do too. They use the network to dial out to ARCs when there are alarm signals to send and, once a customer switches to the new digital phone service, there will be no way for these solutions to perform their intended task, rendering them obsolete and the customer unprotected.

In fact, any type of alarm system – intruder, lift, fire or telecare, for example – will be affected, and this will also extend to CCTV systems that use ISDN services.

Installers can strengthen their reputation though educating customers

The ultimate shut off of the network will take place in December 2025, but Openreach will introduce a ‘stop sell’ of copper-based services once areas around an exchange reaches 75% Fibre coverage. That means timelines can vary hugely, and there are already 220 stop sells announced and effective in Salisbury, and soon Mildenhall to follow, which limit new supply and what can be done to existing PSTN lines.

For installers whose portfolio is still largely legacy-based, this means their portfolio can become obsolete at any time as communication providers upgrade customers to the new digital service. 2025 may seem like a way off, but with new stop sells being announced most quarters, the timescales faced may be much shorter.

Reputationally, this can cause issues in a couple of ways. Customers aren’t being future-proofed with a solution that can last 5/10 years, with it not working past December 2025 at the very latest. And newer all-IP solutions provide faster response times and can be connected via several means, so they stack up much better against legacy counterparts. Installers sticking with older products simply risk looking behind the curve compared to competitors, particularly as we get nearer the deadline.

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Therefore, the opportunity for installers is to be the torch bearers. There is a need for education around the switch-off, why it’s happening and what it means, and installers who can provide this now will have better foundations in place to be able to provide for customers. Similarly, many organisations will want to prepare themselves now, so installers who can’t provide are missing out on potential revenue.

There will be an inevitable last-minute rush at some point with end customers acting to prepare themselves, and they are more likely to turn to the installers who have been actively leading the all-IP charge, rather than the ones who are seemingly reacting in a similar fashion.

Ensuring a supportive ecosystem

Securing the end-customer relies on an ecosystem of parties. The installer may be the customer-facing aspect, but they rely on the ARC, alarm signalling provider and connection network for everything to operate how it should and maintain their reputation.

As such, when it comes to such a big technological shift as the PSTN switch-off, there is a need for more support. Evolving portfolios to match new all-IP demands could mean a variety of updates to ways of working, so it’s imperative they choose suppliers and partners who won’t simply leave them in the dark.

They must choose a supplier that works directly with installers to understand their pain points, reacting through ongoing education, commercial flexibility, solutions that are easy to install and compatible with a range of existing setups, and round-the-clock support. When there is that level of understanding, installers are provided with the reassurance that they aren’t left to operate completely in isolation.

When it comes to the network, whether connecting via IP or mobile, installers need to partner with suppliers who can provide consistent access to robust, reliable networks. Installers have to remember that they can sell cheaper systems, but if it can’t connect to a network to send alarm signals to ARCs, it’s not providing the security it should and could be less cost effective in the longer term.

Ultimately, as we move nearer the end of the PSTN era, customers will be looking to their installers for advice about how best to ensure the ongoing protection, but this burden of change shouldn’t just fall on their shoulders. Installers should prioritise partnerships that not only give them access to evolving, future-proofed alarm signalling portfolios, but also access to the support and education required to ensure the most value is driven from the all-IP world which, crucially, will help keep customers’ premises secure and safe.

Download the Intruder Alarm Report 2020

Download this report, produced in conjunction with Texecom, to discover how increasing processing power, accelerating broadband speeds, cloud-managed solutions and the internet of things and transforming the intruder alarm market, and whether firms are adopting these innovative new technologies.

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