By James Mitchell - Senior Product Manager, Claranet
In the first of these posts, we looked at the significance of the announcements made in 2018 by Openreach on the planned retirement of the PSTN and ISDN voice services that have underpinned the UK’s telecoms market for the last 100 years.
In the second, we looked at what that might mean for commercial and home voice services in the few years leading up to the 2025 closure of the service.
In this final post, I’d like to look ahead at the world post-2025, positing a few ideas for what our communication world will look like and feel like, for both residential and business services.
As we mentioned in the earlier post, there is already a subset of home users who only use the PSTN as a delivery for broadband services, with all their voice communication moved to mobile calls and over the top applications. This trend will likely continue, with this segment continuing to grow.
We would expect to see further changes to broadband delivery, with some users opting for 5G routers and the emergence of shared WiFi connections (particularly in new builds) being driven by the higher bandwidth available on the new range of data-only domestic broadband services, known to the industry as G.Fast and GEA.
Customers who want to retain a voice service (either their existing number or other) will have a number of options. Those who don’t want to move away from their traditional handsets will be offered analogue to IP converters, either as an add-on box or incorporated within basic broadband routers. We’d expect to see some new IP handsets for the domestic market too. For users who want to keep a home phone number but are less bothered about the handset, they will get their calls via a voice application on their mobile or tablet, giving the added ability to take calls while out of the house.
With voice effectively becoming just another application for all home users, as it has been in business for some time, how we receive our calls and what number we claim will become a matter of choice. It will be interesting to see whether large numbers of people switch away from having a ‘landline’ number (since it will no longer be an actual landline) and just have a mobile number, or if their current house number could actually replace their mobile number now they can get it anywhere (a less likely option but will be interesting to see!).
Our small and home businesses have been moving online for some time now, and their customer contact routes will continue to broaden into multi-channel, with app and web-based contact being augmented by AI voice contact, delivered as OTT voice through the apps on mobile devices and web clients. Customers will raise orders via apps, or may call from the app, using end-to-end VoIP.
Most will retain a traditional ‘phone number’ for orders and customer services, but increasingly these will be answered by AI bots rather than by humans, especially for basic things like restaurant table bookings.
Data connectivity has long achieved the status of ‘utility’ in businesses, as critical as power and water, and many businesses will seek to build additional resilience with mobile data connections that are now as fast as many fixed line services.
In the larger business segments, the store and shop networks that used to rely on PSTN lines are now fully IP, either via mobile data and mobile voice, or via hosted voice services provided by their data supplier. Across all businesses, voice has been seen as another data application for some time, as VoIP has been in place over business data networks for many years.
However, this trend is now moving further forward to where voice interaction becomes embedded in organisations web and app services, offering AI-led interaction via voice rather than text and point-and-click.
Voice communication for larger businesses will be even more driven toward AI-led interactions, offering customers the ability to interact via multiple channels – voice, video, chat, and social media channels, all with AI bots doing the majority of the interaction, at least at first point of contact.
Inside the organisation, trends toward flexible and remote working will have continued, with more applications being run from the Cloud and high-bandwidth end-user connectivity will be a given, be it mobile or fixed-line in origin.
Voice calls will be a part of the tapestry of interactions, and we are already seeing increasing demand for deep integration between voice platforms and Customer Record Management (CRM) systems as organisations try to build holistic views of the customer interactions across all channels, something we are providing for a number of our voice customers now, and seeing increasing demand for.
Voice communication will still be top of the pyramid of communication types but will be used less in favour of chat, augmented reality video calls and virtual collaboration. The volume of inbound and outbound voice calls will still be decreasing, as more of the traffic moves to alternatives methods of communication.
We are also seeing the convergence of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ communication tools for the end user, rather than perhaps having an internal chat/IM client and a separate softphone or handset phone for external communication. Claranet’s Hosted Voice service offers a fully featured softphone and IM client called Office UC in this way already, and many organisations are looking at Microsoft Teams, the strategic replacement for Skype For Business as their next converged application. We are working on bringing our Hosted Voice service together with Teams, offering a fully featured hybrid experience. Watch this space!
To conclude this series of posts, last year’s announcement of the End of Life of traditional voice services has the potential to be a seismic change, particularly in the residential and small business markets where the combined landline and broadband service is ubiquitous. Few will be immune from making a change of some description, and new usage models and approaches will pop up across the market. In larger businesses and organisations, existing trends toward the reprioritisation of direct person-to-person voice calls will also continue – we as consumers will spend more time talking to ‘bots’ either via chat or voice, and employees will collaborate and communicate in a wider variety of ways, voice, video and more. Exciting times, and we look forward to working with our customers to ensure they take full advantages of the opportunities this presents.