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Phill Burke: Why alternative providers are the future

Hi all,

I’ve been in telecoms for longer than I care to remember. When I started, mobile phones were as big as paving slabs. As for the internet, only a few hundred people had ever sent an email. BT hadn’t been privatised. Shakin’ Stevens topped the charts.

I’m not here to bang on about the old days. My point is that I’ve seen a lot of changes, in both the industry and the technology that underpins it. The internet has become the backbone of just about everything, including telecoms. And of all the changes I’ve seen, the incoming ISDN switch-off is a pretty big one.

I’ll give a bit more detail later, but this involves shutting down all existing landlines, and running phones through the internet instead. This is a big deal for two reasons. One’s obvious – any infrastructural change is clearly a big deal. The other reason is that it’s opened up broadband provision to a huge range of smaller companies beyond Openreach.

This probably doesn’t sound especially important or interesting to anyone outside of the telecoms industry. But in my view, it affects pretty much every business that uses broadband – which is pretty much every business. I’ll explain why shortly. But first …

What’s the switch-off?

In the UK, phone calls were traditionally sent through the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) and the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN). The first PSTN lines date back to the first commercial phones, in the late 1800s – before even my time! ISDN came a lot later.

BT maintains these lines, but back in 2015 they decided it was no longer worth the cost. Calls can be sent over the internet instead, and that gives better quality calls at higher volumes. So by 2025, every single phone line in the UK will be digital, with calls routed over IP (internet protocol). This is already well underway.

What’s the effect?

This affects every home and business in the country. If your business phones run on analogue lines, you’ll have to switch away by 2025. Otherwise, your phones will be as much use as two cups tied together with string. It’s not just phones either – lots of CCTV, EPOS and door entry systems are connected to ISDN and PSTN lines.   

What it also means is that everyone’s going to need a strong connection, capable of handling more traffic. This is why they’re replacing these lines with better broadband infrastructure.

What’s this got to do with small providers?

Essentially, the new lines won’t be monopolised by BT Openreach. They agreed with Ofcom that other, smaller companies will be able to take part in the roll-out of Fibre-to-the Premises (FTTP) connectivity. This is a big deal. There was a time when Openreach was the be-all-and-end-all for this infrastructure. They were the gold standard for the UK. Now, suddenly, there’s choice.

What’s the benefit to business customers?

This is a bit of a debate in the telecoms world. In my view, the rise of these smaller providers is a big positive for business customers. For one thing, choice means competition, so there’s no one monopolising prices. FTTP broadband is your business’s dedicated connection, running directly from the exchange to your site.

That’s not the case now. And here’s how it works. These smaller providers will come to an area and speak to local FTTP providers like us at YTL. Then they’ll consult with us about challenges and demand in the area, and we can negotiate prices on our customers’ behalf. The competition ultimately protects us all from BT’s love of bumping up prices!

Also, as a general rule, I like dealing with smaller businesses when I can. Giant companies just tend to be more rigid and less responsive when it comes to service. Have you ever had to call BT? It takes forever to get through and you get passed from pillar to post.

SMEs are different. I won’t pretend they’re all perfect, but what they offer is responsiveness. You’re more likely to get service with a personal touch, from someone who remembers your name! And when it comes to FTTP, they’re really doing their bit. Openreach roll-out has been slow, and it’s smaller providers who are picking up the slack.   

What it means for YTL customers

FTTP is available in more and more parts of the country, and we’ve already partnered with KCOM and CityFibre to help supply it to customers. It’s ultra-fast, and more than capable of handling high volumes of VoIP calls, along with other business connectivity needs.

On top of all that everything I’ve said about SMEs applies to us. If you ask me, we’re just about the right size. We’re big enough to get any job done, but we’re not so big that we won’t remember your name.

If you’re not sure how the switch-off affects your business, or you want to know if FTTP is available where you are, by all means get in touch.