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Why you should act now ahead of the 2025 analogue switch-off

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4 November 2021 | Stephen Milne, CENSIS

In 2025, analogue phones lines are being switched off. Stephen Milne, head of strategic projects at CENSIS, explains why now is the time to act to avoid future disruption.

This piece appeared in DIGIT on 4 November 2021

In an increasingly digital world, it can be surprising to hear that many businesses and public sector organisations still rely on copper wire analogue infrastructure to operate their networks and deliver their services.

Yet, according to estimates, more than 14 million traditional lines will be affected when the analogue phone network is switched off in 2025 – a substantial proportion of which will be in non-domestic properties.

The switch-off in just over three years’ time is an opportunity for many of these companies to embrace change now. While it might seem like a long way off, it will begin in earnest from as early as 2023.

Consequently, it could very quickly begin to open up new possibilities through new products and services offered by digital communications providers, along with enhanced and more reliable connectivity.

In fact, there is evidence of this already happening. Cellular digital systems are scaling up to be able to replace, and improve upon, existing analogue services.

These include technologies to support Internet of Things (IoT) networks, such as LoRaWAN – low power, wide area networks – as well as cellular networks like NB-IoT and Cat-M, particularly when it comes to delivering connectivity in rural and remote locations.

Satellite communications will also play a major role in these areas.

The shift to digital should be a positive development for everyone with an interest in greater connectivity, but it will be particularly beneficial for certain industries.

Chief among them are some of the most important sectors we rely on: energy, water, and healthcare. They needed IoT monitoring before IoT networks even existed and the shift to digital gives them the opportunity to embrace what these systems can offer.

In the lead up to the switch-off, telecommunications providers will be able to offer a range of new technologies – such as NB-IoT, LoRaWAN, and Cat-M – to markets that have not had them previously. These can bring about efficiencies, increase reliability, and lower costs. NB-IoT is already scaling up in anticipation of increased network use when the switch-off occurs.

Many of these new services could become core components of what businesses and public services can offer. While it may begin as a ‘like-for-like’ move, very quickly they will begin to realise what greater connectivity can enable.

For instance, with new digital communications a utility company may be able to move from reactive alerts when something has gone wrong to full condition monitoring and predictive maintenance for critical infrastructure.

There are still challenges to be overcome in the shift to digital. The principal obstacle is around cybersecurity and what this could mean in terms of system vulnerability.

Over the next couple of years, new cybersecurity measures will need to be brought in and placed at the heart of digital services – and this will need to be communicated to system users to allay their worries.

The importance of getting cyber security right underlines the need for infrastructure operators and organisations across the private and public sectors to act now to plan for the changes ahead. This is especially important for any providers of critical services, to avoid any impact around the time the switch-off takes place.

The first and most straightforward action they can take is to follow the guidelines from communications providers and meet the outlined milestones, so that required changes are implemented on time.

Likewise, they will need to get their cybersecurity plan in place, addressing any threats to individual devices as well as their network.

At the same time, organisations should also seek out independent advice from support businesses that are technology agnostic to support a smooth transition.

The analogue switch-off is an opportunity for service providers of all types to embrace change and for telecommunications companies to innovate their product offering.

However, to make the most of the opportunities this milestone presents, they will have to act now – not wait until 2025.