One of the hottest topics in UK network infrastructure currently is the move to an All-IP future. UK infrastructure provider Openreach are currently undertaking a huge project – the second largest UK infrastructure project behind HS2 – to ensure that the UK’s broadband network is ready to meet the future connectivity demands of business and residential users.
Since the inception of the UK telephone network and the opening of the first telephone exchange by The Telephone Company (Bells Patents) Ltd in the 1870s, supporting around 200 voice subscribers, it has grown to a network now comprised of around 5600 exchanges supporting near 32.4 million voice subscribers to meet demands. On top of that, with the invention and maturity of the Internet, this network also supports around 27 million broadband subscribers.
The growth over the last 150 years has been substantial and we’ve done an excellent job of scaling the network to meet the requirements. But has this network got capacity for future growth? It has been estimated that globally, 90% of all data on the Internet has been created since 2016, with bandwidth requirements for broadband services increasing exponentially in the last five years (IBM/Watson marketing - "10 Key Marketing Trends for 2017 and Ideas for Exceeding Customer Expectations"). We’re just about keeping up, but it’s clear from measuring the growth in the last five years that this aging network is going to need an overhaul to take us through the 21st century. Which is exactly the task that Openreach are currently undertaking.
There are quite a few elements linked to this story of an all-IP fibre future, with the biggest being the retirement of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) in 2025. One of the many challenges of this retirement is that there are a lot of services that rely on PSTN to operate, including many ADSL2+ and FTTC, which will simply not work without a PSTN. Another challenge is that by retiring PSTN, traditional landline services will no longer exist.
What is the answer for businesses and consumers?
Openreach are rolling out several different technologies around the UK in order to replace PSTN based broadband services, concentrating on two specific areas: Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) and Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA), and it is SOGEA I’d like to take a moment to discuss.
Superfast SOGEA Broadband is a recently released service from Openreach that is set to replace existing FTTC Broadband services in the UK over the coming years. Outwardly, it mimics an FTTC circuit but does not have a dependence on PSTN. There is no analogue voice element to the service. It is purely a data connectivity option, meaning that unlike traditional ADSL2+ and FTTC services you no longer have to order a separate landline – you just place a single order for the Broadband service, hence “Single Order”. SOGEA Broadband is available anywhere where FTTC is currently available, meaning that the service is available to 28 million UK premises. That is quite the footprint.
“... it is logical to start moving to services such as SOGEA broadband today rather than have everyone wait until the last minute and have a panicked rush against the clock.”
But when is the best time to move to SOGEA Broadband?
Openreach have some aggressive targets to hit with their PSTN retirement project, with a targeted end-of-sale date for PSTN based services in 2023 and a full retirement in 2025. Things are moving very quickly, and the advice from Openreach is that we all need to be thinking about hopping aboard and start adopting these new non-PSTN based services now. Given the number of Broadband subscriptions in the UK, you have to admit it is logical to start moving to services such as SOGEA broadband today rather than have everyone wait until the last minute and have a panicked rush against the clock to migrate their PSTN based services.
What can SOGEA Broadband do for you?
As I’ve said, SOGEA Broadband is very closely linked to the functionality of existing FTTC Broadband services today. It currently offers the same downstream bandwidths (currently up to 80Mbps downstream, with plans to increase this to up to 330Mbps downstream) and follows the same availability footprint as FTTC.
They key reason to take a SOGEA Broadband service today is to prepare your business for the PSTN switch-off, mitigate any risk associated with late-adoption time constraints and to provide future proof Broadband connectivity.
“In order to support a digital economy, a distributed workforce and public cloud adoption, robust, reliable future proofed broadband services are essential.”
SOGEA Broadband comes with further benefits over PSTN-based services, such as:
- Reduced Costs: By removing the PSTN element, the cost of providing and supporting a broadband circuit is significantly reduced, meaning that Superfast SOGEA pricing is very competitive
- Simple order journey: Without the need to provision a separate PSTN circuit, the installation lead times are reduced, and the process streamlined
- Greater reliability: The removal of traditional phone line frequencies on the Broadband circuit means there is less of a chance of interference and an unstable connection. The removal of the PSTN circuit means that there is one less element to cause potential line faults
- Quicker Fix Times: Faults can now be resolved much quicker since the customer only needs to provide one support call to their provider, and with only a single element to troubleshoot the repair journey is made much easier
- Embrace the future: Moving to non-PSTN based solutions such as Superfast SOGEA Broadband open a migration path to VoIP services
Of course, one of the biggest considerations to note is that with the removal of the PSTN element from your connectivity, you need to ensure that you have made provisions for any services you have running over that PSTN landline. As well as traditional telephony, services impacted will include any alarm systems or dialup payment systems in use within your organisation. The current advice from the industry working groups is that you will need to speak to the providers of each of these services, who will be aware of the PSTN retirement and will be offering replacement services not dependant on PSTN landlines.
The key takeaway from this is that change is with us. The way telephony and broadband is consumed has changed very little in the last decade, but now has to change. In order to support a digital economy, a distributed workforce and public cloud adoption, robust, reliable future proofed broadband services are essential – with Superfast SOGEA Broadband being one of the first steps into an all-IP future.