The way social care providers will be communicating in the future is changing. Jon Anderton, Managing Director of Cambridge Telecom, an Independent Telecoms consultancy, explains the benefits of digital communications solutions.
In 2025, BT is switching off the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), the UK’s traditional analogue telephone network. If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to think about moving to a digital communications solution.
This is the biggest change to communications for a generation. If you’re a care home provider who currently relies on the PSTN for telephone, internet and other services, it will impact on your business.
Having a new digital telecoms solution is going to become essential and it makes sense to switch sooner rather than later. There are many benefits of using advanced digital technology and Cloud hosting makes it cost effective.
What is the PSTN and why is it no longer needed?
The PSTN has been around since the 19th century. Over the years, it’s been adapted and extended to accommodate new technologies, such as ISDN. However, it was never designed to carry voice, video and data traffic simultaneously and it simply can’t deliver the speed and capacity we need in our modern, super-connected world.
Internet Protocol (IP) telecoms technology (also known as VoIP) is the future. In combination with super-fast fibre connectivity, it offers better performance and more flexibility. What’s more, VoIP solutions can be hosted in the Cloud, which makes the technology affordable for businesses of all sizes. There’s no need for investment in expensive network infrastructure or hardware and you only pay for the lines you need. You can also add new lines quickly and easily.
What’s the timeline for the switch-off?
From September 2023, it will no longer be possible to order new PSTN or ISDN lines and BT will be switching off the PSTN and ISDN completely in December 2025. By then, every phone line in the UK will be digital, routing calls over IP rather than the traditional PSTN. That will affect every business that’s still using the old phone network and any services connected to PSTN or ISDN lines, such as broadband, door entry systems, fire alarms and CCTV.
2025 may seem like a long way off. However, the UK is playing catch-up with many European countries; trials began in Salisbury and Mildenhall in early 2020 and many areas of the UK already have a stop-sell policy in place. The switch-off is rapidly becoming a reality.
The fibre revolution
The transition to IP communications is being driven by the roll-out of fibre across the UK, which has been rapidly gathering momentum over the last few years. In many locations, businesses now have access to Fibre to the Premises (FTTP), the gold standard in affordable digital connectivity, offering super-fast broadband speeds and high-performance standards.
What does this mean for care homes?
Communications technology has become vital in care home settings. The PSTN switch-off could impact on everything from internal and external communications to admin and security, so it’s important to start planning a smooth transition to a digital solution.
In the planning of new-build care homes, fibre connectivity infrastructure will now be a standard part of the specification. Therefore, it’s essential to make provision for a robust, cost-effective IP solution to provide telephone, broadband and other services.
The good news is that IP technology brings with it a host of new benefits and opportunities. It’s not just about better-quality telephone calls and faster, more resilient broadband: IP telephony will usually be less expensive than a traditional phone system; IP solutions offer a high level of functionality as standard and it is much simpler to add new users to an IP system. Probably the greatest benefit concerns resilience: phone numbers will no longer have to be tied to a single connection or even a single device. Your phone number can sit on your deskphone and your laptop and your mobile. Systems can be designed so that, if a circuit goes down, the phone numbers will move to a different circuit and, if necessary, calls can be made and answered in a completely different location.
Creating a better experience for residents
A hosted VoIP solution over super-fast fibre can enable your care home residents to stay in touch with their loved ones. A dedicated line can easily be installed in each resident’s room to give them an always-on connection.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of residents being able to make video calls to their families when a face-to-face visit isn’t possible. Fibre-based IP technology can deliver the bandwidth you need for all your residents to use any devices – smartphones, tablets and PCs – at the same time, with much less risk of experiencing buffering or loss of service.
VoIP also makes safeguarding vulnerable residents easier. Built-in call filtering means you can ‘blacklist’ and block unwanted calls from the likes of telemarketers and fraudsters, while ‘whitelisting’ the phone numbers of key contacts, such as residents’ family members.
Empowering your staff to work smarter
The nature of care home work means that staff are often moving around: engaging with residents, meeting with healthcare providers and other partner organisations or visiting people’s homes. With IP technology, they can take calls on their desktop handsets or mobiles. They can also use advanced call-handling features, such as instant messaging, to deal effectively with contacts when they’re not available to take the call.
As well as working more efficiently and collaborating more productively with colleagues, they can also deliver higher levels of care to residents. For example, they can be equipped with internet-enabled tablets loaded with apps which link directly to GPs for ordering repeat prescriptions or reporting key health information.
What should you be doing to future-proof your business?
To make sure you’re ready for the PSTN switch-off, now’s the time to review your current PSTN set-up, as well as creating a plan of action to migrate to an IP solution. This should include a wish list of services and features, not just to replace your existing provision but also to take full advantage of the exciting potential that digital communications can offer.
Remember, it’s not just about assessing the impact of the PSTN switch-off on your phone services and broadband connectivity. You may have other internal systems that are dependent on the PSTN, such as health and safety and security systems.
The simplest way to achieve a smooth transition is to partner with an experienced telecoms provider. At Cambridge Telecom, we can take care of everything, carrying out a free review of your current telecoms systems and functionality, taking the time to understand your needs, exploring options available to you in your area, and proposing a cost-effective solution that works for your care home, your residents and your staff.
Jon Anderton has worked within the telecoms industry for over 21 years and is the Managing Director of Cambridge Telecom, an Independent Telecoms consultancy.
Jon has 13 years’ experience working with the care sector, delivering tailored-made telecom solutions to care homes across the UK. Understanding the needs of a care home, Jon is already working with top brands to help them understand how to transition and future-proof their services ahead of the 2025 switch-off.