It’s not widely grasped, either by the public or by the industry, that the traditional home and office copper-wire telephone network will cease to exist in December of 2025.
As Bruce Strang, Chief Operating Officer at Commsworld, one of the UK’s leading network providers explains, this switch off date is set in stone. BT’s infrastructure provider, Openreach, which owns around 80 per cent of the fixed copper line telephony network in the UK is committed to switching off this long-serving technology on the date in question.
An extension of this December 2025 date is highly unlikely, in Strang’s opinion, which is a problem since there are still some 14 million actively used copper telephone lines across the UK.
Fibre-to-the-premise is vastly better, more efficient and less costly to maintain as a replacement for dial-tone telephony services. It is being rolled out across the UK at an ever-accelerating pace and offers far more scope for the much-prized ‘digital inclusiveness’ that both the Scottish and Westminster governments are currently promoting.
Broadband connectivity speeds over fibre start at around 100Mb and can easily scale to 1Gb or 10Gb speeds, giving plenty of scope for homes and businesses to benefit from even the most demanding of current internet-based services which the like of Commsworld, with its own nationwide ultra-fast optical core network, can provide.
At the same time, large numbers of homes across the UK now rely either exclusively on mobile phones or use mobile telephony a lot more than they do their fixed-line services. So it might seem as if the copper wire telephony network could disappear into history with nary a tear shed for its passing.
And this might be the case, was it not for the internal weight posed by those 14 million copper lines still in use. As Strang points out, the vast majority of people and businesses who have either a high degree of dependency on the existing copper network, or who use it for some key services, are not showing any urgency about finding and installing replacement technologies.
Clearly, if everyone using copper lines waits until the last moment to change, the bottleneck that is going to create, in terms of demand for skills and equipment, will be huge.
This matters, he explains, because many of these copper line-based services are critical for those using them. Two cases in point, he says, are the emergency call buttons in lifts and emergency help buttons in the homes of many elderly people. Yet another example is the burglar alarm boxes one sees on the side of houses. All three of these services rely on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) based on copper fixed lines and they will all cease working when the plug is pulled on the PTSN.
There are alternative technologies, but they do not appear by magic. People have to wake up to the need to move on, and actively contact their service provider to find the best solution for them.
However, Strang emphasises that the change from copper to fibre connectivity should be seen not as a problem but as a huge opportunity especially if, for example, local authorities – and indeed the nation as a whole – embrace a diversity of fibre supply, which would, in turn, encourage new providers into the market.
“We are very keen to get people and businesses to realise how broad and diverse the opportunities are that come with the move to fibre connectivity. Take affordable housing for example, whether these estates are run by housing associations or local councils. The high-speed connectivity enabled by fibre-based broadband can open the way for a whole range of new services,” he comments.
Fibre connectivity is also going to be a huge enabler of 5G mobile services. Strang points out that 5G networks need high-speed fibre for their connectivity between 5D cells and the network providers systems. 5G mobile networks are looking to provide up to 10Gbps connectivity to mobile devices, which means those networks need high-speed, multi-gigabit fibre connectivity underlying their mobile operations.
This requirement, in turn, is helping to focus the mind of fibre network providers and is yet another incentive for them to speed up the roll-out of fibre to the door for both homes and offices.
“We also see this accelerating emphasis on fibre connectivity as playing a really important role in solving the problem of getting high-speed connectivity to rural areas across Scotland,” Strang says.
“What we want to see this mind-shift away from the idea the fibre connectivity is just about increasing broadband speeds. It does, and it will help stream services, but far more important, in our view, is the opportunity for councils to think about how they can improve services for their citizens”.
Strang also points out that with the pandemic having forced so many businesses to get to grips with their employees working from home, fibre connectivity offers businesses a huge opportunity to transform working practices. “This is as big as our imaginations can make it”, Strang concludes.
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