ISDN - The options for bringing your tech out of the 80's

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What comes next after ISDN?

Okay, so the 2025 ISDN switch off is still 4 years away, but we all know how fast time passes, you just have to think about the last 18 months to realise that. One minute we were all living our normal lives, the next a Global pandemic hits us, changing the way we live and work forever.

So, if you’re one of the 50% of UK businesses still using ISDN legacy tech, it’s time to catch up and decide how you’re going to modernise your communications systems; it’s an inevitable change and one that’s so easy to make that it seems crazy to wait.

What is ISDN and why is it ending?

ISDN stands for the Integrated Services Digital Network and was launched in the late 1980’s to make and receive multiple calls into businesses. ISDN splits the traditional copper phone line (PSTN) into multiple digital channels allowing people to make and receive calls simultaneously on the one physical line. With the whole service relying on copper wires, it’s been degrading over the past 30+ years and can’t keep up with the faster connection speeds provided by new fibre technology.

ISDN is now way past its expiry date – just think about your life in the 1980’s compared to today. Are you still wearing a shell suit, creating mixer tapes from the Top 40 countdown and driving a Ford Sierra? No, of course not, you’ve moved on and so should your communications.

ISDN Diagram

What are my options for change?

There are two options for businesses looking to replace their legacy ISDN platform: Cloud Telephony or SIP. The main criteria between these two is whether you want to keep your existing on-premises PBX system or move to a cloud-based solution.

If you’ve recently invested in an on-site PBX or just want to keep what’s familiar then go with SIP. If, however, you’re ready to move to a fully cloud-based solution then Cloud Telephony is the one for you. Both SIP and Cloud Telephony will provide you with a future-safe solution that’s quick, easy and cost-effective to set up over your existing internet connection.


I want to keep my PBX so choose SIP, what now?

SIP stands for Session Internet Protocol and simply enables your internet connection to be used for voice calls through your existing phone system or PBX. SIP’s an easy and cost-effective replacement for ISDN; it provides high quality calls, the ability to scale users up and down, great calling functionality and usually at a lower cost than ISDN.

To move from ISDN to SIP you simply need to pick a provider (we know a great one) and they’ll manage you through the whole process. You’ll probably want to keep your existing phone numbers, so the first thing is to work through a porting plan to move your telephone numbers over from your previously provider, this can take a few days or up to a few weeks if you have lots of numbers. Apart from that the switch is seamless; the only difference you’ll see is faster connections and access to a new portal to manage users and call functionality.

I want to move to a cloud-based PBX so choose Cloud Telephony, what now?

Cloud Telephony uses the internet to make and manage all voice communications. You don’t need any on-site hardware, instead you have access to a cloud-based fully managed phone solution. It’s the most flexible of all solutions as it’s easily scalable and enables every user to make and receive calls from anywhere on any device. It’s also extremely cost-effective as there’s no platform hardware to purchase or maintain – just a few handsets or headsets as required. Finally, of all the phone solution options, it’s the most feature-rich providing access to a variety of reporting capability, call centre functionality and system integrations including CRMs and Microsoft Teams.

There are lots of Cloud Telephony providers out there so the most important thing is picking the right partner and solution. Again, the right partner will work through the process with you to understand how many phone extensions you need, the features most important to you from day one and what hardware you want to make and receive the calls.

What can go wrong?

Both SIP and Cloud Telephony are mature, robust solutions so not much can go wrong. However, there are a few things that you need to get right to make sure that your new voice solution works at its best.

Firstly, as voice is travelling over your internet connection for both SIP and Cloud Telephony, your connectivity needs to have enough bandwidth to support it. If it doesn’t then your calls will be glitchy which isn’t a great experience for you or your customers. Your provider will be able to help you assess this and upgrade if necessary.

Secondly, any hardware you use needs to be enabled for IP – again this is a quick check and easy to resolve.

Finally, you need to communicate and educate your teams so they are excited about the new phone solution and the extra functionality this will give them; full onboarding and training is usually part of the new provider’s process – it definitely is for us.

What benefits are there?

Quite simply both SIP and Cloud Telephony are more modern, robust solutions for making and receiving calls and either will have a positive impact on your business and customer experience.

Lower costs: both Cloud Telephony and SIP provide more cost-effective ways of managing calls. They both require no up-front investment plus setup costs and running costs are usually considerably lower than what you’ll currently be paying with ISDN.

Easy scalability: with both SIP and Cloud Telephony it’s really easy to scale up and down depending on business need, adding either SIP Trunks or users with no effort at all.

Feature rich: all the features that you’re used to with your ISDN line are still there but with many more thrown in. Call recording, queues, auto attendant, desktop and mobile apps, auto attendant… the list goes on. Most of these features are included in the standard monthly price so you can customise your phone solution to your exact business needs without worrying about inflating costs.

Hybrid working: with all the changes over the last 18 months it’s become really clear really quickly that having your main method of communication tied to a specific device and location just isn’t going to work going forwards. Cloud Telephony enables anywhere, anytime, any device communications so you and your colleagues can always be reached, regardless of where they are.

Disaster recovery: on ISDN if your phone line goes down so does your customer experience and potentially your business. With both SIP and Cloud Telephony you have inbuilt disaster recovery enabling you to quickly route calls through a different IP address or forward calls to an alternative number.

What next?

So, as we mentioned at the start the switch off doesn’t happen until 2025 so you’ve got a few years to make the change, which might not make it a pressing priority. However, the reality is that it has to be done at some time so we’re not sure why businesses aren’t all hampering to get their hands on the cost savings and added features of either SIP or Cloud Telephony as soon as they possibly can. After all, you can still buy a 1980’s Ford Sierra, we’re just not sure why you’d want to.