PSTN Switch Off: Germany's Experience

PSTN Switch Off: Germany’s Experience. The mixed fortunes of Deutsche Telekom’s PSTN migration and a look at Germany’s experience; how we in the UK could avoid making the same mistakes.

Germany’s Deutsche Telecom, (DTAG) kicked off the country’s PSTN switch off migration from PSTN and ISDN to IP telephony in 2014. Broadly speaking the PSTN switch off went off swimmingly but there were notable car crashes, especially within the pharmaceutical supply sector and customers migrating their fax machines.

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What lessons did DTAG learn from their foreign operations?

DTAG had operations in a number of Eastern European countries, notably Slovakia and Croatia and they made efforts to learn from these country’s PSTN switch off migration experiences. In Slovakia DTAG completed a 100% migration by mid December 2015. In Croatia, they achieved an impressive 97% migration from PSTN to IP. DTAG learnt that ‘significant cost reductions’ were possible albeit in much smaller countries than Germany.

Taking these lessons learnt DTAG achieved a tripling of customers using IP voice. The percentage of customers using IP voice rose from 25% in 2014 to 77% by last count in 2018. DTAG hopes to complete the countries migration by the time you read this blog.

So Germany is now fully IP voice enabled? Well not exactly..

Vodaphone Kable plans to complete its PSTN switch off roll out of IP migration by 2022. Mobile operators however all offer voice over IP through their 4G offering.

So what did the Germans do right?

From the off DTAG worked closely with their national telecoms regulator, the Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA), which is broadly comparable to the UK’s Ofcom, although BNetzA has a much broader regulatory remit. The BNetzA and DTAG engaged in regular quarterly meetings and engaged other stakeholders including user groups.

With one eye on smoothing the path to well established customers, who some would say were set in their ways, DTAG offered PSTN switch off to customers who used analogue voice telephony lines. And yet, even with the best will in the world this was not always technically possible.

Fax are fax and will not disappear..

In their IP migration DTAG encountered persistent problems with customer’s fax machines. Neither the company or the regulator had an clear view of how many customers were affected. Also security devices which were provided by a special service provider such as offering security or fire alarm monitoring proved troublesome.

And so the relevance to the UK?

Although Germany, with a population of 88m, is one third more populous than the UK, the proportion with fixed broadband connections is roughly the same, so it is reasonable to expect the technical challenges that IP providers are facing to be broadly similar.

Germany calling and the lessons that could be learnt from across the North Sea?

  1. While broadly speaking the migration was carried off efficiently this was enabled by a close and conciliatory relationship with the telecoms regulator BNetzA.
  2. DTAG most likely took their eye off the ball when it came to rolling out the more specialised offerings, such as to providers of security alarms.
  3. Customers still use those lumps of plastic in the corner call fax machines.

One company’s mistake is another company’s opportunity. How could your telecoms provider profit from Germany’s mistakes.

The business opportunities that could arise from the UK’s current PSTN switch off to IP migration are likely to arise those telecoms service providers serving specialised services – think secure housing, fire alarm services.

These services are often bespoke and tailored to the specific client need, which the more nimble telecoms provider could meet.

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