The alarm security industry is an ecosystem of organisations collaborating to better protect people and premises.
On the front line, installers hold the keys to the nation’s safety. Responsible for the fitting of alarm and alarm signalling solutions, end-users deal with them throughout procurement and installation. As such, they are often the ‘face’ of security.
Vendors produce the innovative solutions being sold. With some having been in the industry for decades, you can track how their offerings have evolved to match new customer requirements and technological capabilities.
Finally, there are Alarm Receiving Centres (ARCs) which effectively connect the alarm solutions to the next person in the chain: for example, the owner of the premises and, if needed, the emergency services. If there’s an alarm trigger, the relevant ARC is critical in ensuring the steps are taken to mitigate potential damage and other repercussions.
All three organisations are crucial to the protection of the UK, but all are facing a major technological shift that will impact customer requirements and the solutions available.
What is the PSTN switch-off and why does it matter?
For decades, the UK has relied on the public switched telephone network (PSTN) for its voice and data needs. These analogue copper lines formed the backbone of the country’s infrastructure, but by December 2025, all traditional phonelines will have been migrated to a digital phone service.
Support will be withdrawn for legacy solutions with stop sell exchange areas being announced quarterly, culminating in a national stop sell of PSTN products in September 2023. However, the timelines for transitioning are likely to be much shorter with communication providers actively migrating customers across the UK now.
While the PSTN and the products it supports – for example the Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) suite – has served us well, it’s no longer able to provide for the country’s current and ever-growing digital requirements. We need futureproofed all-IP alternatives.
This matters to the fire and security industry because the PSTN has been seconded for far more than the voice services it was initially developed for. For instance, many alarm solutions rely on the PSTN to dial out to ARCs when alarms are triggered so, when a line is migrated, said solutions won’t be able to perform their intended task and end-customers will be at risk. In fact, any type of alarm system – intruder, lift, fire or telecare, for example – will be affected, and this will also extend to CCTV systems that use the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN).
How all-IP empowers ARCs and the wider industry
As the PSTN wasn’t developed with security in mind, it was never really fit for purpose and that creates a few challenges.
For example, as the analogue lines only allow the transit of basic information, some challenges are generated through the apparent lack of traceability afforded to alarm signals from some alarm signalling systems. Poor traceability can lead to a lack of accountability should alarm signals not actually reach their intended destination. That impacts user confidence in ARCs, solutions, and installers.
All-IP connections enable much greater monitoring of solutions and the transfer of enriched information. Solutions can be consistently checked to make sure they’re operating as they should, which helps mitigate the possible repercussions of solution failure which is often only discovered when it’s most needed.
All-IP also empowers ARCs to consolidate a greater portfolio of services into one offering, adding value to the installer and end-user. For example, some PSTN-reliant systems require ARCs to have the relevant technology installed which is expensive to invest in and limits the variety of solutions they can support. Yet, IP-enabled solutions don’t require use of particular hardware on the ARC side meaning new solutions can be added to networks seamlessly without complexity.
With this additional information comes the ability to assess situations in real-time which ARCs can then immediately respond to through remotely controlling devices, solving small issues that would otherwise need human intervention. The possibilities are endless, and ARCs can become a guardian concierge offering greater all-round protection.
Education is critical
The switch-off will impact everybody. It’s therefore vital that all understand that it’s fast approaching, it’s time to act and that there are alternatives available now. Getting to that stage will involve sustained educational campaigns that target all stakeholders, from end customers to installers and ARCs. What the industry needs to try and mitigate is the last-minute rush for all-IP solutions when those who are yet to act do so with only a short time to spare.
However, education isn’t the role of one organisation, it needs to be an industry-wide effort. Each company needs its ecosystem to be thinking about all-IP, while also taking steps to encourage the uptake of new future-proofed solutions. For example, vendors should be ceasing the sale of PSTN-reliant offerings and providing next generation solutions. While ARCs should be encouraging installers to update portfolios and guide customers away from legacy setups.
The 2025 switch-off is the biggest technological shift the country has faced in years, and with that comes great opportunity. All-IP devices will empower the fire and security industry, giving end-users greater access to enhanced solutions that will keep them safer. What’s key is ensuring all stakeholders know it’s looming and there are the alternatives already in place for them to act now in order to keep their customers safe and secure and their business futureproofed.
The shift to all-IP: the impact on the nation’s fire and security industry
By: Nick Whiting, Head of BT Redcare