As part of a global transformation of telephony services, the UK is undergoing the transition from an analogue to an ‘all-IP’ platform. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) is working closely with Ofcom and communication service providers (as well as other stakeholders) to ensure that the security business sector has the opportunity to voice its concerns and expectations as well as raise awareness of the changes and impact this will bring. David Wilkinson has the detail.
BT has announced its plans to transition to an all-IP digital platform over the coming years and expects to complete the change by 2025. In particular, BT has been seeking a way in which to identify its consumers who have a ‘special service’ (such as an alarm or telecare service) operating within their premises, as this may be impacted by the change to all-IP.
The security and fire industries still harbour a significant number of customers who rely on analogue phone lines to provide voltage and dial tone to connected alarm devices. This configuration will change with the transition to an all-IP digital platform.
BT envisages that security service providers will cease buying analogue equipment in the near future, and that they will move to more compatible solutions designed to communicate digitally. With the recent announcement of the opening of BT’s digital services lab at its R&D Centre, alarm providers (ie installers and manufacturers) are now able to test both their existing and any new ‘all-IP’ systems.
BT is keen to work with the BSIA and the wider security and fire industries to protect consumers during this transition by ensuring that those who rely on their current analogue alarm devices move to the new digital phone service in a controlled way, in turn ensuring that alarm services continue to perform their critical role.
Massive programme of change
Antoine de la Gardette, who heads up the engagement team for BT, explained: “It’s really important that we impart the message of the switchover to the industry as quickly and as widely as possible. It’s a massive programme of change, bigger than the switchover from analogue TV to digital TV, and we want to make sure nobody is left vulnerable when the analogue systems stop working.”
BT has asked the BSIA to contact all of our members, firstly to convey their desire to help with testing of alarm equipment at the BT Labs and, secondly, to request that Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) provide information to help to manage the transition (namely the inbound telephone numbers they use to receive alarm signals). BT will then be able to use this information confidentially to mark BT’s customer accounts to show that they may have a ‘Special Service’, such as an alarm system, and to make sure that these customers are then advised by BT to contact their alarm service provider before making a change.
It’s important to emphasise that BT is only asking for the phone numbers that alarm devices dial into (ie ARC receiver numbers) and not those of service users. These ARC numbers will likely appear on BT customers’ accounts and can be used to alert those customers to the need for further checks. Any information that’s given to BT will not be used for any other purpose and be protected. BT has offered non-disclosure agreements for those who are concerned about matters of confidentiality.
It’s also worth noting that BT has advised that, as an interim solution, the organisation would provide an Analogue Telephony Adapter port with its new home hub, which could help to keep some current products working until they can be upgraded or replaced. It should be stressed, however, that the new home hub provides no battery back-up. Therefore, phone connectivity will be prevented when home power fails. Any voice band alarm data exchange could also be affected by the new IP networks, and so would at least require further testing. Therefore, alarm system suppliers should be consulted as to how their solutions would continue to operate reliably in this situation.
The BSIA welcome these very supportive steps from BT, and we recognise the desire for alarm service providers to identify or develop new digital solutions for their customers, while also providing additional time for the necessary transition. We continue to work with Ofcom and other telecommunications providers to secure similar supportive measures across the industry.
From PSTN to all-IP by 2025
The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is a circuit-switched telephone network operated by national and regional operators, providing infrastructure and services for public telecommunications. The PSTN consists of telephone lines, fibre optic cables, microwave transmission links, cellular networks, communications satellites and undersea telephone cables, all interconnected by switching centres that allow most telephones to communicate with each other.
Originally a network of fixed-line analogue telephone systems, the PSTN is now almost entirely digital in its core network and includes mobile and other networks, as well as fixed telephones. The Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) came about in 1986, allowing both voice and data services to be delivered simultaneously. For the technology and services at the time, it served its purpose and continued to do so for many years.
Due to the changes in technology, PSTN and ISDN are now out of date, as are their associated maintenance and running costs. Despite having been updated radically over the decades since they were introduced, the lines are still essentially the same in set-up and design as the original phone lines of the 1800s.
There are approximately 29 million PSTN circuits still in use in the UK. As of 2018, BT will want to convert as many as possible and, to achieve this figure by 2025, will need to convert the lines at a rate of 238,000 per month.
There are a total of nine million burglar alarms in the UK, and work is progressing in communicating the opportunity migration offers and by working in collaboration with other industry stakeholders.
What is an all-IP?
An all-IP network is a packet-based network in which all data is transferred in the same way and independent of the access or transport technology. Industry parlance these days points towards the ‘next generation network’ to describe the all-IP network.
A next generation network is able to provide services, including telecommunication services, and can make use of multiple broadband technologies in which service-related functions are independent from underlying transport-related technologies. It offers unrestricted access by users to different service providers and supports generalised mobility which will allow the consistent and ubiquitous provision of services to users.
PSTN and all-IP will differ heavily in terms of the equipment that they require and also in terms of how they go about delivering their calls. While PSTN require physical lines, all-IP is digital and requires nothing more than the Internet to be fully operational
The move to all-IP services isn’t just happening in the UK. Some Scandinavian countries have completely switched, while Europe as a whole is moving towards all-IP networks.
Although the BT ISDN ‘end of life’ of 2025 hasn’t been set in stone, businesses will be unable to buy systems that use ISDN and PSTN after 2020. If you currently have a traditional ISDN/PSTN-based system, it’s recommended that you make plans to look into the alternative. Although the switch-off isn’t for another eight years, it’s best to plan ahead and work towards migrating sooner rather than later after finding out all of the benefits the replacement IP-based systems have to offer.
Set against the background of this transition development, the BSIA has been hosting high-profile Forum-style events across the UK on how changes to the telecommunications network may affect the fire and security industries. The final events in the series will be held in Manchester and Belfast later in the year. Further information can be found on the BSIA’s website.
David Wilkinson is Director of Technical Services at the BSIA
*If you’re happy to provide your ARC receiver numbers to BT Consumer or if you have any queries on these issues please contact the BSIA via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 01905 342020. If you wish to contract BT Consumer direct please contact email@example.com
**Interested parties who wish to arrange a testing of their signalling equipment (ie communication using the PSTN) should contact BT via https://www.btplc.com/DigitalServicesLab/index.htm