Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary is making a costly mistake by ruling out in-flight Wi-Fi, argues iPass’ Patricia Hume.
It’s just under a year since the United Nations declared that internet access should be a human right, highlighting the ever-increasing role that connectivity plays in all our lives.
Today, even airline passengers now expect uninterrupted in-flight Wi-Fi, something which has only started to be possible in recent years. In fact, research by Gogo found that millennials are starting to expect the same levels of connectivity in the air as they do on the ground, and 48% of respondents said they would choose another airline if Wi-Fi was not available on their chosen flight.
This marks a serious shift in passenger expectations, which is why it was so surprising that the CEO of Ryanair recently said that the company had no plans to offer Wi-Fi to its customers.
Although airlines can avoid costly plane upgrades in the short term, they will surely end up losing far more in the long run; consumers are increasingly demanding Wi-Fi, whether they are on planes, trains, in cars or even on the Underground.
London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, recently announced plans to ensure the whole of the London Underground is connected – beyond the in-station Wi-Fi we have today – so the customer expectation of Wi-Fi access will only increase as connectivity ‘not-spots’ decrease and the times when they aren’t able to connect become ever rarer.
Likewise, in-flight connectivity may be a valuable additional revenue stream for budget airlines, which have adopted a model of selling extra services so successfully in the past.
Fortunately Ryanair is in something of a minority when it comes to choosing not to offer in-flight connectivity. In the last few weeks, Icelandair announced transatlantic in-flight connectivity from 2018, and airlines including Qatar and Air Canada have also announced that they will be offering new or enhanced connectivity on their planes.
It is not just long-haul flights either; it won’t be long until shorter European trips, and even domestic flights, also offer Wi-Fi, and in some cases airlines already are. Clearly there is an appetite for this service, and the vast majority of airlines are choosing to satisfy this need.
Travelers expect to be connected at every point in their journey, whether in-flight, at the airport, at their hotel, and even in the taxi that took them there.
The good news is that over the next 12 months, more and more travelers will be able to stay connected wherever they are, even at 30,000 feet.
Airlines that choose not to offer in-flight Wi-Fi cut themselves off from a valuable revenue stream and risk having customers choose a competitor’s service – so you can count on the fact that Wi-Fi won’t stay grounded for long.
Patricia Hume is chief commercial officer at Wi-Fi network aggregator iPass
Unified communications expert Paul Clarke says the technology is still far from ubiquity especially as more CIOs implement mobile-first strategies.
From a unified communications perspective, the drive for greater mobility will be the guiding force shaping the office of tomorrow. In the not too distant future, workers won’t have assigned desks or even offices to work at. Instead, work will take place where and when it is needed, with employees doing their jobs as much online as they do in person.
Harvard researcher and workspace expert Jennifer Magnolfi explains that “we used to define ‘work’ by crossing the threshold of a physical building that we called ‘the office.’ Once we did that, we entered into this mindset that we were at work, and we were doing work. Today that same passage happens when we connect to our work-related data on our smartphones or other tools.”
The need for increased productivity with limited investment is driving this trend towards increased mobility. Global productivity is waning and has been since the financial crisis of 2008. Mobility boosts productivity by enabling employees to work all the time, wherever they are, and it doesn’t involve hiring more people or buying expensive hardware.
Today’s workforce, from the oldest to the youngest, values flexible working conditions: both in terms of working hours, and working location. According to a 2016 worldwide survey by Vodafone, 83% said adopting flexible working had resulted in improvements in productivity. Flexible workers are happier and fresher: instead of being worn out by commuting and a rigid work pattern, they are free to complete work when and where they are most suited.
To support this mobility, CIOs need reliable online communications solutions that enable employees to access the information they need, when the need it. Traditionally, technology such as the desktop and desk phone tied workers to the office, making such flexibility impossible; after all, who could ensure they had a duplicate computer and landline at every location they might be in?
The growth of software-based unified communications (UC) has changed this: with workers able to access all of the information and capabilities they need from any device, anywhere, at any time, they can be just as productive at home or on the road as in the office.
This has made UC the crucial technology to underpin the office of tomorrow. Newer software-based approaches mean that organisations can offer their workers all the communication channels they need, from VoIP to video to email and messaging, over any device and at a low cost, without the need to invest in costly and complex hardware and infrastructure.
This is key as there’s no one form of communication that facilitates better collaboration than others. For instance, older workers may gravitate to calling and conferencing, while Millennials are known to prefer chat and messaging above all others.
Despite the benefits of a mobile workforce being apparent, many employees are reluctant to work from home. This is largely in part to workers feeling that what they do remotely won’t be held in the same regard as what they do in the office.
This needs to change and this change must come from the top. Indeed, it is already a priority at many companies.
If workers are to be comfortable working remotely or at home, they must feel that they can connect to the office without a hitch, whether by phone, email or video, whenever and wherever they are. The more cost-effective and easy to implement and manage remote working is, the more successful employees, and consequently their employers, will be.
Paul Clarke is UK manager at 3CX, a provider of managed unified communications services.
In this guest blog, Anthony Sutton from Cobham Wireless discusses how venue owners can maximise visitor satisfaction by improving mobile network availability.
It’s match day! You’ve managed to get tickets to the biggest sporting event in the calendar year; you’ve navigated queues to get into the stadium and spent a small fortune on a burger and a drink. You get to your seat, and reach to your phone to share the action with your friends and family and check the team line-ups … but you’ve hit a brick wall.
You struggle to share your experience over WhatsApp and Facebook, or even gain the basic 2G or 3G internet connection needed to check the BBC Sport website for the latest team news. The mobile connection is infuriatingly slow as a result of thousands of other supporters using their phones for similar purposes, exhausting the network’s bandwidth. Furthermore, the physical infrastructure of the stadium obstructs mobile phone signals, impacting the quality of coverage.
This is a frustration that many sporting spectators experience, making it difficult for mobile phone users to find their friends in a packed arena, post to online social groups or keep the track of the score in concurrent games. Failing to provide reliable mobile phone coverage can tarnish the reputation of a stadium and seriously diminish the spectator experience.
With the FA Cup Final taking place this weekend, Arsenal and Chelsea fans will be traveling to Wembley with hopes of capturing their experience of this showpiece and sharing it over social media to envious friends and family. Fortunately for these visitors, Wembley Stadium’s owners have taken measures to ensure that fans receive good 4G and 3G connectivity, regardless of the high demands placed on the network.
Distributed antennae add mobile depth
Wembley selected mobile network operator EE to install a system that could provide visitors with the reliable, superfast connectivity that people take for granted in most other venues. This weekend, football fans will experience first-hand the benefits of a DAS (distributed antenna solution), which enables high-capacity 2G, 3G and 4G wireless coverage. This makes the solution an ideal choice for environments such as stadiums in which a great number and density of users access a network simultaneously.
Other stadium owners are also making investments to improve mobile connectivity for visitors. For example, Lords offers Sky’s Cloud Wi-Fi, Twickenham’s 2014 renovation included Wi-Fi deployments and England’s Football League also announced last year that free Wi-Fi was coming to venues.
However, turning to Wi-Fi for mobile connectivity is not a winning solution. Typically, to access these services a visitor would have to fill out online forms and provide personal data. Most people much prefer to connect with their native mobile operator without the hassle of registration and security implications of connecting to a public Wi-Fi network; a service which is usually severely impacted by poor connectivity speeds.
Stadium owners should instead follow in Wembley’s footsteps and invest in DAS, which divides coverage into sectors in a given environment. This allows mobile operators to overcome the challenge of providing indoor coverage to the whole stadium, by treating the project as a collection of smaller challenges. Multiple base stations send radio signals to an Optical Master Unit (OMU), converting the signals into light, before distributing via fibre to one or more remote units within each sector. This flexible approach helps provide both coverage and capacity solutions; seamlessly channeling mobile operators’ networks into inherently difficult locations.
With a summer of sporting events and music gigs planned, visitors to Wembley needn’t worry about access to high-quality coverage. However visitors to some other stadiums may not be so confident. Failing to provide adequate coverage means that stadium owners are missing out on an easy win.
Following initial investment, a system like that used at Wembley will deliver operational and capital savings to stadium owners in the long run. The cost of adding additional capacity or extending geographical reach further down the line is low in comparison with other systems.
Mobile users now expect to connect to mobile services reliably and quickly, whenever and wherever they are. This is of particular importance in a stadium environment, and can greatly impact the quality of fan experience.
Anthony Sutton is director of coverage at Cobham Wireless
Have you ever considered that software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) may be the technology equivalent of the men’s “skinny suit” fashion trend? In the right context, it’s a flattering fit. But some enterprises just wear it the wrong way, and the result is all-around discomfort.
Before a business decides to step into SD-WAN, it’s important that IT leaders understand how to tailor it for appropriate use. Unfortunately, many companies make some big mistakes when it comes to suitably deploying SD-WAN.
IT leaders and staff tend to assume the following:
- Moving to SD-WAN means they can replace all their private WAN solutions with pure broadband internet connections.
- Saving money is guaranteed, end of story.
- Getting up and running with SD-WAN – and keeping operations going smoothly – is a simple proposition.
Now for the reality…
Sadly, each one of these statements is a myth. The chain of false beliefs typically flows from the original misconception that choosing SD-WAN means your enterprise can ditch its hybrid WAN infrastructure.
It can’t – not, that is, if your IT team hopes to be able to meet its responsibilities to provide guaranteed performance for business-critical applications. It’s unreasonable to expect to be able to do that by relying solely on SD-WAN over best-effort broadband services.
True, SD-WAN provides some excellent techniques and technologies to boost speed and uptime when using run-of-the-road broadband connections. But they’ll only improve the situation up to a certain point. When those efforts have been exhausted, your business will be left to suffer the effects of service outages or degradations for what could be a very long time – and broadband providers aren’t exactly known for offering mean-time-to-repair guarantees! Can you really afford that?
Opting for dedicated internet access services to assure consistent broadband performance could help assure application requirements are met – but at what cost? The answer is: Probably a lot more than you were expecting to spend when you thought that the move to SD-WAN meant that you were buying your business a future of cheap and compliant broadband connections.
Suddenly, the money you thought you’d save by doing away with high-performance private WAN connections starts slipping through your fingers.
Money and labour become issues, too, around deploying SD-WAN appliances on your network and optimising use of the technology. Certainly SD-WAN capabilities like zero-touch provisioning are meant to streamline operations. But they’ll only be effective in that respect if you have – or hire – network architect talent to design all the parameters for your applications in advance and program them into a central orchestrator, so that they can be downloaded to the SD-WAN hardware.
Those talents will need to be called upon every time you need to make changes or additions to configurations, as well. Maintenance struggles also surface when IT departments find themselves having to deal with dozens of different broadband internet service providers (ISPs) across the globe for break/fix issues.
Get SD-WAN Right
Of course, if you get the SD-WAN cut right, so to speak, the technology will be an excellent option for your business. How to do it? For starters, continue to leverage two or more types of connections in a hybrid WAN setting – think private multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) as the primary option for your critical real-time applications, backed up by broadband.
Or, for remote sites or smaller offices that don’t need a lot of bandwidth, it might make sense to combine broadband services as the main SD-WAN function with network options that support IP virtual private network (VPN) encrypted tunnels. That permits direct private network connections so that when necessary, users can quickly track from the internet onto a global private line network to ensure quality of service and data integrity.
The important thing to realize is that SD-WAN is not a broadband panacea, but rather should be viewed as a sophisticated means to leveraging multiple types of WAN links for top price-performance value. That value is maximised when paired with various deployment mode options (cloud among them) and dynamic application control, which makes it possible to switch traffic from one link to another when a certain threshold is reached and then revert back to the main path once the coast is clear again.
Bottom line: SD-WAN will help make the hybrid WAN function in the most flexible, cost-efficient and performance-enhancing way possible.
Now that you have the correct frame of reference about how to best use this new technology, you can make an informed decision when updating your corporate WAN.
Paul Ruelas is director of network product management at Masergy.
So the Digital Economy Bill, setting new standards for broadband and mobile provision, data-sharing and more, is law, waved through along with a whole bunch of other stuff the government would rather you forgot about and just in time for the dissolution of Parliament ahead of the General Election.
Among the provisions in the Bill is a longed-for and long-debated broadband universal service obligation (USO) that enables anybody to ask for and receive a broadband connection with a minimum speed of 10Mbps. The government thinks this is a great moment that will guarantee fit-for-purpose broadband connectivity for consumers the length and breadth of the land.
I think that is a steaming load of rubbish.
Earlier in 2017, the House of Lords proposed an amendment that would have more than doubled this USO from a rather lacklustre but serviceable 10Mbps to a fairly nippy 30Mbps.
The Lords said that the proposed 10Mbps USO was so slow it would probably have to be reviewed almost immediately, while the economies of scale associated with an enhanced 30Mbps USO meant that the extra public money that will be needed to fund it can be easily accounted for.
But this clause never made it into the final cut of the Bill. Why is that?
Those excuses in full
Speaking in the House of Commons last week, digital and culture secretary Matt Hancock set out his justification for flinging the amendment out.
At first, he said he feared that a 30Mbps USO would be undeliverable – although on what basis remains unclear – and said that the risk of a legal challenge to a 30Mbps USO from the industry was too much to bear, which suggests to me that someone who works at a major telecoms operator with a two letter name might have popped by the office to have a quiet word, although of course that is spurious tittle-tattle on my part and you should make up your own mind as to whether or not it happened.
Hancock proceeded to perform an Olympic standard mental gymnastics routine, saying that because the USO was being legislated for under the European Union (EU) telecoms framework, which requires a USO to ensure a baseline of services where a “substantial minority has taken up the service but the market has not delivered” the fact that very few people were taking a service of over 300Mbps meant that providing a service of just a tenth of that speed (and remember that 30Mbps is certainly good enough for a high-def Netflix binge) was therefore quite out of the question.
In Hancock’s favour, he did say that a future government would review the 10Mbps USO once take-up of superfast broadband hit 75%. However one might quite reasonably induce that if Openreach is only going to be held to a 10Mbps USO, which is not superfast and therefore cannot count towards the 75% figure, that point will take a while to reach.
Frankly, this ridiculous kind of chicken and egg politics is holding back the UK’s digital economy. And the thing is, it’s not even a chicken or egg situation: it is quite evident, although apparently not to Mr Hancock, that there cannot be a superfast broadband subscriber without a superfast broadband connection!
However you spin it, and Lord knows we try to be positive, it seems clear to me that under both David Cameron and Theresa May, the current government has been totally shambolic in its commitment to the UK’s broadband infrastructure.
Once again for the slower MPs: you. cannot. build. a. digital. economy. without. good. connectivity.
This is even more important in these Brexit-means-Brexit days, for as Computer Weekly has made clear loudly and on several occasions ever since the EU referendum, we are shortly going to be doing business with the world without the benefits of being part of a massive trading bloc with our closest and most valued neighbours. We’re going to need every advantage we can get!
At the end of the day, the Digital Economy Bill is a bad law and Matt Hancock’s failure to stand up to the commercial interests of Big Telco and commit once and for all to take bold action over broadband provision has done the UK a huge disservice.
I wish I could write that we hope for positive change after the General Election, but I fear that would be in vain.
Did you hear the one about the time Openreach CEO Clive Selley visited the countryside and was shocked, shocked I say, to discover that people in rural areas have difficulty accessing fit-for-purpose broadband?
No, it’s not fake news. This happened.
According to the Shropshire Star, Selley was introduced to a number of rural business owners who are struggling with slow broadband, after being invited to take a look around by local MP Owen Paterson.
Among others, Selley met the owner of a health and safety practice, who is struggling to communicate with his clients, the owners of a holiday home who have to keep apologising to guests who can’t get online.
According to Paterson: “It was interesting to see how shocked the head of Openreach was to hear of so many problems.”
On the assumption that Owen Paterson wasn’t telling porkies to get his name in the newspaper, this strikes me as a troubling trend. Here’s why.
A long-time Openreach insider, Selley, who replaced Joe Garner as CEO in early 2016, has established a reputation as something of a technological whizz, and is particularly hot on emerging delivery technologies, such as G.fast, that are helping Openreach deliver faster services to its internet service provider (ISP) customers.
Nobody disputes the commercial realities faced by Openreach, that super- and ultrafast fibre-based connections – by which I mean either fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – mean that the organisation naturally lines up the areas where it can make the most money off its network for an earlier upgrade – that means towns and cities, where the majority of the population now live.
But Openreach is still charged with delivering fit-for-purpose broadband across the whole of the UK, not just those areas where sound commercial sense dictates it will see a better return on investment from ISPs reselling access to its infrastructure.
So the fact that its leader does not appear to have a full grasp of the situation on the ground in some of the UK’s more out-of-the-way spots is deeply worrying.
People who live in the countryside are the ones who have shouted loudest about their often dismal broadband services, and they will shout louder still as they are inevitably once again bypassed by G.fast and FTTP. It’s why the altnets get such strong traction and have so much goodwill in the areas they serve: they understand the concerns of rural folk.
But judging by Clive Selley’s visit to Shropshire, it would appear that Openreach does not.
Thanks to broadband comparison site uSwitch, which first brought the story to our attention.
Almost three out of five CIOs we speak with today tell us that technology providers often seem to be pushing software defined networks (SDN) simply to sell hardware, writes Verizon’s Peter Konings, and they just don’t need more hardware.
Let’s be clear: SDN isn’t a box. It is about enabling better performance and efficiency in the software layer. What all CIOs today really need to understand is how to leverage SDN to improve performance and reinvent their business processes in order to be able to compete more effectively.
While cost reduction will usually be the most compelling benefit for any technology adoption, the more persuasive argument for SDN adoption is that the technology can drive enterprise-wide change. Successful proof-of-concepts are frequently moving to production quicker than planned. Greater network agility and reduced cost allows a CIO to package services differently, which can reduce time to market and reduce opportunity costs. This gives the CIO greater business agility, which in turn offers more freedom to innovate, catalyzing an upward innovation spiral.
SDN for optimising cloud and virtualisation
If you look at network models used across most organizations, they haven’t really evolved much since the 90s. But how much has technology has changed? We’ve applied Moore’s Law to networking in moving from 10Mbps to 10Gbps and beyond, but we have only just started seeing changes in network architecture. As our perimeter dissolves, more applications are being hosted in the cloud, and with application hosting environments sitting outside the traditional internal network, a different, more optimal model is required.
Now, imagine an application that can detect demand and move compute instances and network loads to different server farms based on where the user is located. Bear with me here: SDN helps to fulfil this by decoupling control from the hardware plane. Rather than requiring hardware, physical equipment or significant human intervention to provision for expansion or contraction based on usage needs, SDN enables a CIO to scale up and down as needed via software controls. As a result, SDN is an enabling technology that allows an organisation to drive far greater efficiency and agility from their network and virtualisation environments. It also allows for significantly improved management, increased visibility and better automation. No more over-provisioning!
The same application could change network routes based on revenue projections or data sensitivity within the application.
Protecting against attacks with embedded security
Embedded security isn’t a new concept. A few years ago, the Jericho Forum was started with a view to developing a way of stopping network attacks against application infrastructure. The drive for setting up the forum was the rise in cyber-attacks such as phishing, SQL and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that give attackers access to internal systems.
One such technology is the software defined perimeter (SDP). This technology re-architects the perimeter to provide advanced identity and application-specific access control. It is a far superior security model, and is particularly valuable for companies active in cloud-based environments.
Here’s another benefit: having to manage and secure increasing amounts of data means that full network visibility and transparency are essential. The network automation and orchestration gained via SDN and SDP delivers more data that can itself deliver valuable, timely alerts, enabling IT executives to perform security analytics. When you consider that 25% of all data breaches remain undiscovered by the victim for weeks (or even months), the importance of this becomes obvious.
How do you even start to think about transforming your network?
First and most obvious, you need to clearly define your objectives.
Understand and document what you want to achieve through the implementation of SDN, so that you can measure its success. Remember that while the reporting the financial success of any implementation is important, IT teams may lack the skills to effectively describe business benefits. Don’t let the hardware/software vendors lead your discussions, as they may have vested interests. Look at open systems and tools where available and understand how these can be supported and used across the organization.
You also need to consider SDN’s impact on your support structure. Explore how process and workflow can be improved, as this can often lead to a change in the support structure for operational teams. Instead of having compute, network and application teams, it is now quite common for organisations to move to an application-centric support model that includes staff with skills in server and network technologies. Tooling may need aligning to this support structure, and it’s important to identify these systems up front. A good configuration management database (CMDB) really can help to understand enterprise applications, the uses and value of these and the critical components in their delivery.
In conclusion, SDN really is here to stay. CIO evangelists tell us that SDN enables them to design their network to flex on demand to meet the demands of their business, rather than design to peak – with the added layer of security a bonus. Perhaps most compelling is the fact that, with these new technologies, the time of deployment can in some cases be reduced from 500 days to as few as 65. And this is why very early adopters have tended to include companies undergoing mergers and acquisitions, as SDN allows them to integrate acquisitions onboard faster.
Peter Konings is director of Enterprise Networks and Managed Services at Verizon
Connecting to the internet in public spaces is second nature to most of us. Whether it’s in stores, restaurants, shopping centres, or even railway stations, we take to our mobile devices to compare prices, share our latest purchases via social media, find promotions, or just to pass the time.
The challenge that tends to confront us, of course, is which Wi-Fi network we’ll be able to access with greatest ease. Our phones instantly show us the choice of available networks, and research shows that more people are prioritising speed over safety, with more than 70% of people ranking connection speed a higher priority than the security of the connection.
Security experts recently reported that two thirds of people don’t know if the public Wi-Fi they are using is secure or not, despite 80% understanding the dangers of sharing private data over unsecured networks. But in the event that data from a phone is compromised, how many organisations would genuinely accept responsibility for the breach?
The reality is that the public Wi-Fi provider – be it retailer, hotelier, restauranteur, etc. – is the de facto internet security guard and will inevitably assume the role of villain if anything goes wrong while people are using their network to get connected.
Unfortunately, many of these organisations simply do not have sufficient security measures in place, leaving the public exposed to the possibility of device infection, data theft, unauthorised data sharing, or even financial loss.
Wi-Fi education is vital
Furthermore, those that do have adequate security and compliance measures in place don’t always do enough to promote safe public Wi-Fi usage to their customers. Even if a customer unwittingly compromises their own data, the owner of the Wi-Fi network may still be blamed for the incident.
High street brands offering Wi-Fi need to better promote secure usage to their customers. Having the capacity to provide guests with it is important, but without appropriate security measures in place, businesses may inversely harm their reputation, brand recognition, and, ultimately, revenue.
End users need clear instructions on how to log on to the secured Wi-Fi network, and once online, they need to be notified about how aggregated and personal data will be handled and stored. In the case of personal data, customers should be informed about the type of data collected, how it will be used and with whom will it be shared, and where and for how long this data will be stored.
With regards to device tracking, Wi-Fi providers that have agreed to the Future of Privacy Forum’s Mobile Location Analytics Code of Conduct will honour requests from consumers wanting to opt-out of having their location linked to their mobile device.
Equally, public Wi-Fi providers must ensure they are doing all they can to keep their public Wi-Fi secure from being compromised. Creating encrypted passwords and verifying forgotten log-ins ensure only legitimate users can access the network.
Public Wi-Fi providers can also include an idle timeout, logging the user out if their device has been left unused for a certain amount of time. And since the majority of cyber-attacks are the result of uneducated end-user choices, companies should take advantage of apps or the login portal to highlight security dos and don’ts to customers.
Ultimately, businesses need to maintain their credibility by disclosing as much information to their customers as possible. Providing secure guest Wi-Fi is only one aspect of the solution, and brands offering it have a responsibility to help educate their customers on how to use public Wi-Fi sensibly and securely.
Jeff Abramowitz is president of Cloud4Wi and previously founded cloud network management firm PowerCloud.
With BT Wholesale having announced that from 2020 you will no longer be able to purchase integrated services digital network (ISDN) and public switched telephone network (PSTN) circuits as it targets a 2025 switch off date, questions are naturally being asked. Will BT really flick the switch in 2025? What needs to be in place before that can happen, and what are the options for those currently on ISDN/PSTN circuits? In this guest blog post, Bamboo’s Lorrin White explores some of the next steps for customers.
Last year, BT boldly announced its intention to switch off its PSTN and ISDN networks by 2025. This was a smart move. In a world that is fast embracing IP as the standard protocol for all communications services, it was important for BT to declare its intentions to remove the legacy from its network, while giving customers a whole decade to make the switch (if they haven’t done so already).
What does this announcement really mean?
Let’s start by looking at what PSTN and ISDN really are. PSTN is the same phone line most people have at home, whereby analogue voice data flows over circuit-switched copper phone lines. While it may have evolved over the years, PSTN is a very, very old technology, operating on the same fundamental principles as the very first public phone networks of the late 19th Century. It is worth noting that PSTN does not just power voice, as asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) and fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) both operate on it. As of yet BT have not suggested any replacement technology for these, so one can assume that BT’s planned obsolescence of PSTN applies to voice only in this instance.
ISDN, by contrast, is a spritely young thing from the late 1980s. ISDN allows both voice and data services to be delivered over digital lines simultaneously. When it launched, ISDN was well-suited to businesses, as it could support early video-conferencing systems at the same time as an analogue phone line. For a time, it could also offer the fastest internet access available (128 kbps). Naturally, since ISDN is no longer the place to go for video-conferencing or a fast internet connection, its USP has quickly been eroded.
So, BT is killing old tech. What is the ‘new’ tech that is replacing it?
In a nutshell, BT is moving its entire voice network to voice over IP (VoIP). VoIP is hardly ‘new’. But this is a good thing. VoIP has been a proven platform for voice for some time now. It works. If your business has renewed its telephony sometime in the last few years, you may have been told about it (but don’t be surprised if you haven’t, since IP is a whole new game that has been growing steadily in the background, with more and more businesses realising the benefits demonstrated by the early adopters).
VoIP has many advantages over PSTN and ISDN too; it is much quicker to provision new lines, you can reduce your line rental due to needing fewer physical lines, and it is vastly scalable and flexible – for example you can redirect calls to different parts of the country at the flick of a switch, or have a single phone number follow you around the world irrespective of where you’re working.
Why is BT flicking the switch?
Why do you no longer use your Nokia 3210? Same reason, but on a much bigger scale. Also, maintaining multiple legacy networks is very expensive for BT. By converging all services – voice, data, video, and even broadcasting – to the IP protocol, BT only has to maintain one network, not several.
It is also worth bearing in mind that 2025 might not be Doomsday for ISDN. The date is not set in stone. It is BT’s intention to stop selling PSTN and ISDN by 2020 and shut it down completely by 2025 – but this is assuming it has managed to switch all customers over to IP services before then. This means that a viable alternative must be available to everyone well before 2025. For many businesses today, ISDN is still the best they can get. According to Ofcom, there are 33.2 million fixed landlines in the UK (including ISDN), and approximately 7.6 million of these belong to businesses. BT will not turn them off before they have an alternative firmly in place.
What should you do?
Businesses will no longer be able to buy any systems that use PSTN or ISDN by 2020. While 2025 may seem a long way off, 2020 is only just over three years away. If your current traditional telephony contract is up for renewal within the next few years, now is the time to start exploring the benefits of VoIP and SIP technologies.
Assuming you are in an area that can purchase a VoIP system, there are two things you need to consider:
- Is your internet connection good enough to deliver VoIP?
While VoIP does not use very much data when compared with other services like video, you must ensure you have enough bandwidth to deliver voice on top of everything else your office does. Some say you need 5Mbps down and 2Mbps up as a bare minimum for a small office, but really the bandwidth you need depends on your individual needs and Quality of Service (QoS) priorities. Bottom line; if you don’t have enough bandwidth or a QoS commitment you could experience poor audio quality or intermittent service and miss out on the full benefits.
- Does your office phone system support VoIP?
Most new office phone systems already support VoIP, but if yours doesn’t, you can either replace your entire phone system with an IP one (worthwhile if your handsets are looking tired), or just invest in an IP-enabled on-premise PBX (the box that connects your internal phone system to the external phone network). A hosted telephony system is also a good way to make the switch.
Is it ever worth buying ISDN today?
Given all of the advantages of VoIP over ISDN, in most cases we would recommend investigating whether VoIP is right for your business, and if not now, considering how you will make the move in a few years’ time. And there are still some circumstances where ISDN is a good solution, for example as a disaster recovery or failover option.
Whether or not the 2025 date will stick we’ll wait and see. The final date is dependent on how successful UK wide fibre rollouts are, as without the connectivity to run there is no real alternative to ISDN. Connectivity in the UK is getting faster and faster, so who knows it may happen even sooner than 2025. But while the date may move by a few years here or there, the one certainty is this; ISDN and PSTN are outdated technologies that are simply not as good as modern VoIP. So don’t stay in the past.
Lorrin White is managing director of Bamboo Technology Group
Last month, European Commission (EC) president Jean-Claude Juncker laid out three key objectives for a new telecoms framework, to be met by 2025.
These are: to give schools, universities, research centres, transport hubs, public services and digital enterprises access to ultrafast broadband capable of delivering speeds of at least 1Gbps; to give every household in the European Union (EU) access to broadband capable of delivering speeds of at least 100Mbps, that can be upgraded to gigabit connectivity later; and to give all urban areas, major roads and railways 5G coverage, with a 5G network to be made available in at least one major city in each EU state by 2020.
This is one of the largest reforms of European telecoms framework for years. It sets ambitious targets. It is a key signal that the EC sees access to ultrafast, fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband as a necessity as we move towards the connected future. In a way, the reforms mirror signals sent up by Ofcom in its market review earlier this year.
Speaking at an Adtran event earlier this week, consultant Tony Shortall, an expert on telecoms policy, said that the EC was clearly pushing regulators towards very high capacity broadband networks. At the same time, he said, it was was narrowing the range of potential technology solutions. In Shortall’s words, “they don’t say it’s fibre, but they do say it’s not VDSL”.
So what is the process from here on out? The EC’s proposals will go before the European parliament this month, which will then review and develop a position. The Council of Europe will also take a common position, and negotiations will go from there. With a favourable wind, the adoption of the proposals into European law could take place in early 2018.
The Brexit problem
But there is a problem: we might finally have a set date for Brexit. Over the weekend prime minister Theresa May laid out plans to trigger Article 50 in March 2017, which means Brexit will become reality in March 2019.
At the same time, May announced key legislation, dubbed the Great Repeal Bill, that will see all EU legislation transposed into UK law. This means that future governments will be able to keep the good laws, and get rid of the bad laws.
Make no mistake, the EC’s telecoms proposals are good laws. They are by no means examples of the sort of Brussels bureaucracy that 52% of us voted to reject. Far from it. They are an excellent example of the sort of proactive legislation that the EC was designed for, and could bring benefits to millions of EU citizens.
Many business leaders expect that the UK economy will to take one hell of a beating once Brexit actually takes place. So as Computer Weekly has argued more than once, it is absolutely vital the government takes action to bolster Britain’s connectivity. We must act now to give our hard-working businesses, the lifeblood of the economy, as competitive an advantage as possible.
Pushing to adopt the EC’s proposals into European law in time for them to be transposed into British law by March 2019 must now be a key objective for this government.