What does the end of PSTN in Europe mean for IoT businesses?

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[ This article was originally published here ]

We live in ever-connected worlds where friends and family are available at just the touch of a button, even if they are on the other side of the world. This has been particularly valuable in staying connected during COVID-19. Yet while the digital era has totally redefined the face of telephony, we’re still surprisingly reliant on infrastructure that is decades old in some of the ways we communicate.

Europe is currently in the process of ending one of its oldest and most fundamental pieces of networking infrastructure – PSTN. We look at what the end of this technology means for IoT service providers and dig into some of the opportunities that will come from it.

So, what is the PSTN?

For over a century, the majority of phone connections around Europe have been predicated on the public switched telecoms network – or PSTN. It takes different forms across Europe, known as RTC in France and BT in the UK, but it is all based on the same infrastructure devised years ago.

In recent years, telecoms companies have started to upgrade landline services to internet protocol (IP) based services which can support both landline and broadband telephone services. While there are regional differences in when this technology will become obsolete, it’s believed that Europe will have closed these last-generation services by 2025.

Why the switch to IP-based networks?

This move away from PSTNs reflects a wider shift in consumer attitudes to communications. Not only is it practically second nature for most of us to make IP calls over Skype or Microsoft Teams, we’ve also come to expect a better level of service – i.e. crisper call quality, no dropouts – when we make these calls.

At the same time, the cost to maintain existing PSTN networks is a sizable burden on providers and the industry. This is due to huge maintenance costs, it can be hard to find replacements for faulty equipment and the increasing risk of it breaking down.

What does this mean for providers of IoT services?

The end of PSTN networks gives service providers and manufacturers in the IoT space an unprecedented opportunity to make sure they are setup for IP connectivity in this evolving landscape. Businesses, for example, might want to think about making sure their IoT devices are setup for future-proof business connectivity – which means making sure that they are equipped to operate on 4G and 5G, being mindful of the limited shelf life of 2G and 3G.

Within 4G and 5G, there are different technologies available depending on the business application that you are targeting. If, for example, you work with Point of Sale (POS) devices, you’ll need connectivity that can afford high bandwidth and power to be able to accommodate for the volume of data that your applications will be sending regularly. On the other hand, if you are a smart meter manufacturer, your device will be sending much smaller packets of data at a rather lower frequency, with a significantly lower power requirement – in which case, your communications needs will be drastically different to the POS business.

As IoT service providers look to move on to these new technologies, they can rest assured that transitioning does not necessarily mean destroying existing architectures and starting from scratch. Plug and play solutions can help smooth transitions, integrating new connectivity options into their existing connectivity architectures.

What benefits will IoT manufacturers see when moving to cellular connectivity?

The move to a digital IP network brings with it countless other opportunities for organisations working in the IoT. Cellular connectivity, for one, is future-proof and has standardised connectivity with available service level agreements (SLAs) and security standards.

It also provides an additional layer of security when compared to analog networks. At a very base level, analog lines can be cut, thereby killing the connectivity of your device. With cellular, it’s possible to use tamper-resistant secure elements to store and protect device IDs and credentials or make use of TLS Protocol for secure and encrypted data transmission.

It can also offer enhanced features such as better bandwidth, voice and video capabilities, improved data insights, remote software updates, device performance alerts and monitoring. When you think about a home alarm panel, which needs high reliability and to be equipped for video and voice, you can see why it’s important to get the connectivity right for the sake of building security.

Connectivity fit for the future

While the end of PSTN networks across Europe surely marks a pivotal time in the history of connectivity, it also provides those in the IoT space with an opportunity to re-evaluate their device connectivity options. For those looking to step into this space, it’s worth checking out existing solutions already on the market that bundle both cellular connectivity and security – this may be modules. This includes the 4G modules that we offer, to help manage a large fleet of IoT devices; or even terminals for customers who require minimal integration. Cinterion® IoT Terminals, such as our PLS62, work out of the box to quickly and easily add IoT connectivity to enterprise applications. With minimal integration effort, they can be connected to smart applications via standard industrial interfaces.

For more information on how to kick off your IoT project or take advantage of existing offers out there on the market, check out our instructive videos on how to become an IoT Master here.