I have heard informally from two sources within Telstra that they are expecting to announce a replacement ISDN product within the next few months, along with an 18 month switchoff timeline for ISDN. So what does this mean? If you are considering changing over to ISDN to escape the NBN Switchoff, this may not be such a good idea.
What is ISDN?
There is a Wikipedia article on it, but it is rather technical. For most businesses ISDN is just a different technology for bringing telephone lines into their premises. It is most often connected to an actual phone system, not just a regular phone. What is important is that ISDN lines are currently not included in the standard switchoff timetable.
There are actually two different ISDN products: ISDN2 (also known as BRI) and ISDN10/20/30 (also known as PRI). While they share some technological similarities, they are delivered in totally different ways. I am not clear at this stage which ISDN type they are replacing, however I would expect that it would be ISDN2, but it may be both types.
The reason ISDN has come to prominence around the NBN is that it is currently not included in the list of services that will be switched off around 18 months after the Fibre NBN is switched on in an area. Some providers, notable Telstra, have been suggesting that people change over to ISDN (which requires upgrading or replacing their telephone systems – usually at significant cost) to sidestep the switchoff. Telstra have also been using a ISDN product (they call a “data-only line”) to allow clients to use their existing EFTPOS, Alarms and Fax systems without modification.
What is the effect if/when this is announced?
Until it is announced it is unclear what the full effects will be. However the first effect is that ISDN will go into Cease Sale within the NBN Fibre rollout, meaning that clients will no longer be able to order a standard ISDN product, they must order this replacement product. It is also expected that any existing ISDN services will enter the timeline for disconnection – expected to be 18 months after the announcement.
Now the important thing to understand is that this is a replacement product. In other words, the goal will be to allow clients to unplug their phone system from their existing ISDN lines and plug them into a new box that is connected to the NBN. However as with the standard telephone line replacement we can expect some issues:
- Quality: This is unknown at this point. Due to the way ISDN works (it is a digital product), it is likely to not have some of the issues of the standard telephone replacement product (namely echo and poor sound quality). However they could have some similar issues such as dropping calls and intermittently not working.
- Changeover issues: The new product will almost certainly have similar management issues during the changeover – namely losing your services for a period of time and not working as expected. You will likely have to spend money with your telephone system company so that they can help manage this, they may have to change settings within your phone system.
What if I am about to switchover to ISDN?
If you already have ISDN services, then unless you have another compelling reason to upgrade your phone system, you may as well stay on ISDN at least until the situation becomes clear.
However if you are considering changing to ISDN to escape the switchoff, then you might want to reconsider doing this, particularly if you have to spend significant amounts of money on this (on upgrading your phone system to support ISDN for example). There is a risk that your money spent will be wasted, and at least you will have to go through another switchover process 18 months or so down the track. It might make more sense to spend this money upgrading or replacing your phone system so that it natively supports the NBN way of sending voice – namely VoIP.
What is also unclear is whether Telstra will offer this product at wholesale to other providers. Unlike standard telephone lines, Telstra have never been required (by law) to offer ISDN services to their wholesale partners. When you use another provider (such as iPrimus, Commander, AAPT along with my company, Launtel), they then buy these services from Telstra Wholesale.
If Telstra decide not offer the service at Wholesale or only to certain providers – and this is likely, because they can reasonably argue that other providers should be creating their own NBN products, then you might find yourself severely limited in your choice of what provider to get your ISDN from. If you don’t like the ISDN replacement product (or price), you may find yourself having to upgrade or replace your phone system a second time.
It would be prudent for businesses to understand the future risks of going down the ISDN path, given that we know it will be an obsolete product.