Insights and Resources • Last Updated 8/15/2022

The Australian ISDN is being switched off.

It's time to shift from copper cable telephony to an internet based communication system.


By Fiona McDonnell

History of the Australian ISDN and the Switch to the National Broadband Network

The ISDN: A brief history

Cast your mind back to how people communicated in the 1980’s—letters, postcards, newspapers, and phones. In the 1980s phones were pretty bulky pieces of equipment, with one phone line coming in and out of each house.

It’s easy to see why the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) was touted as breakthrough technology when it was launched to Australian market in 1986. The ISDN supported digital data transmission over the existing copper PSTN network and delivered services like voice, video and fax, which weren’t available on the traditional phone system.

It’s not surprising then that it was quickly adopted by many businesses around Australia as their communication system of choice. Even as internet-based communication platforms came online in the 21st Century, many businesses kept their subscription to the ISDN as a back-up, due to its perceived reliability over digital platforms.

However, with the greater availability of high-bandwidth internet, the need for ISDN has almost completely diminished in recent years.

The switch to the National Broadband Network

In 2016, Telstra, Australia’s largest mobile phone network, announced plans to discontinue the ISDN product lines and that a complete switch off of the ISDN infrastructure was imminent. Although the discontinuation was to occur on a phased process, the initial plan was to withdraw these services by 2020. That has now been extended to 2022, allowing companies more time to adequately plan and budget for a shift to an internet based communication system.

The shutdown is being driven by the rollout of the National Broadband Network, a project which is aiming to deliver high speed internet to all of Australia in order to deal with the increased dependence on web-based services such as education, business and professional services. The project was undertaken to replace the copper cable telephony network that is reaching end of life. In addition, when compared with other solutions—such as SIP—the inability to efficiently scale and dynamically add lines means that ISDN simply isn’t meeting the needs of modern-day organizations.

Why now is the time to future proof your business

While the pending shutdown of the ISDN network may not have convinced some companies that they needed to get their communications services off the ISDN, the effect COVID-19 has had on day-to-day business operations will have. The events of the past 9 months have highlighted how important it is for businesses to have a robust, dynamic and cost-effective communications solution in place.

In the space of a week, workplaces around the world became decentralized, emphasising the need for a unified communications system that was not tethered to one office space and has reliability at its core. While the ISDN is reliable, it just cannot offer the level of dynamism required for businesses to run efficiently in 2020. That’s why it is the perfect time to switch an internet-based communications solution, such as SIP trunking.

Many businesses see massive cost-savings when switching from ISDN to SIP. Not only is it cheaper to operate online versus over copper wire, but businesses are also able to add and remove lines in response to customer requirements and demands. That means there is no paying for lines you don’t need.

Most importantly, SIP allows businesses to implement work-from-home schemes, which in this day and age, is fast becoming a requirement. For example in 2020, workplaces without the ability to quickly shift to remote working would need to have made significant upgrades to office spaces in order to comply with social distancing and COVID-19 best practices. Apart from being time consuming, this is a huge upfront cost to bear during a highly precarious time for many businesses. Through implementation of SIP, situations like this can be avoided in the future, and the transition to remote working can be seamless.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to adoption of cloud based services over the ISDN has been reliability. As mentioned, many businesses have kept their ISDN contracts purely because it is seen as a reliable service that experiences very little downtime.

With the rollout of National Broadband Network, businesses across Australia will be able to experience a similar reliability using internet based communication systems.

While the ISDN shutdown may seem like a big move, it could not be happening at a better moment. Australia is moving with the times, it’s up to you to ensure your business is not left behind.

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