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Getting set for the ‘Great British Switch Off’

Advice for SMEs who are most unaware of changes coming according to new survey

A third of small businesses are unaware of forthcoming changes to the UK telecoms network leaving them at risk of a communications crisis, according to research by broadband provider Zen Internet.

The Great British Switch Off, also known as the copper stop-sell, is set to impact all UK businesses within the first half of this decade. As of 2025, the country’s traditional telephone network – the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) – will be fully switched off and withdrawn from service. Prior to that, in 2023, products which use the PSTN network – such as Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) – will stop being sold and will no longer be used for line installations.

 Zen Internet is urging small business owners to take heed of the changes and grasp the opportunity they represent – after research revealed that it is the UK’s SMEs who are the most ill prepared for change and over reliant on traditional telephony systems.

The issues facing SMEs

The Zen research into 500 UK small business enterprises, which formed part of a wider report of 1000 business leaders, discovered that traditional telephony systems still remain the backbone of communications for small businesses, with 62% using it for customer communications. More than half use it for engaging with partners and 61% for communicating with colleagues.

What is more, there are a huge proportion of businesses – both large and small – which could find themselves tied to communications agreements which are set to become obsolete as the industry reaches the stop sell and switch off dates. Over one in 10 (13%) businesses say that the next possible point of contract renewal/termination with their traditional telephone third party supplier is more than three years away. This means that some businesses could be spending money on legacy communications systems which are no longer functional, resulting in serious costs implications – a quarter (26%) of SMEs estimate the amount spent on traditional telephony systems to be between £5,000 and £40,000 a year.

Despite the Great British Switch Off rendering telephony systems obsolete, a third of SMEs are not aware of the stop sell in 2023 and 10% of SMEs that are aware of the stop sell, do not know their next step. More than a quarter (26%) do not have a designated division to take ownership of the switch over strategy.

Reimagining the workplace – the opportunity for SMEs

Covid has forced a huge step change for small businessowners, accelerating the home working trend exponentially. Whilst in the main homeworking has been embraced by employers and employees alike, it hasn’t been without its challenges.

40% of businesses say that one of the main challenges they see to remote working is poor internet connections in staff homes. This is echoed by findings from a further study by Zen, which surveyed 1,000 people working from home (in July 2020), which found that nearly nine in 10 (89%) workers wasted an average of over 30 minutes a day as a result of poor internet speeds or connectivity; with more than one in 10 of that group (12%) losing over an hour of work time.

Alongside the practical issues, remote working has impacted on business revenue too according to the research. A third of small businesses say that remote working has led to a decrease of between 6% and 30% of annual turnover.

Whilst the copper stop-sell will result in a short-term upheaval for small business owners, it is clear that it will also offer widespread benefits – helping SMEs navigate the issues faced with home working in the past 12 months. Transitioning away from traditional telephone networks to cloud-based technology – which carries communications over the internet – introduces a scalable and adaptable system for the modern day, which is also fit for the future.

But when it comes to moving to a cloud-based model of communication SMEs are lagging behind their counterparts in larger businesses. Six in 10 (60%) large businesses already use a cloud-based solution for integrating their communications channels, compared to only two fifths (40%) of SMEs.  That said, over half of small businesses who don’t currently using a cloud-based system are actively considering it – showing that the appetite to innovate is there.

Jon Perkins, Director of Strategy at Zen Internet, said: “It’s clear that the forthcoming changes to the UK’s telephony network is set to impact businesses large and small – however what has become clear from the research is that smaller businesses could be at risk of being left behind in the switch over if they don’t start to act and plan now.

“Ultimately the planned changes open up the opportunity to migrate to cloud based alternatives, making communication channels more reliable and suited to modern ways of working. This means businesses no longer need to be tied down to a fixed line at a fixed location. Instead of having an old copper line connection, a single, fast data connection carries voice calling and can facilitate unified communications tools, and opens the door to next phase of productivity growth through the likes of AI and automation.

“The way we communicate has changed exponentially in the past 40 years with the rise of the digital age revolutionising enterprises and giving small businesses increased tools to thrive. This is the next step on this journey – and with the right information, planning and technology partner, it can unleash endless opportunity.”

For more information about Zen Internet visit

Lisa Baker is Group Editor for the Need to See IT Publishing Group. Lisa writes about HR, Technology, Health, the Environment and Business.
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