Satellite networks hold the key to reliable post-PSTN connectivity

Contributed article

by Damian Lewis, Market Development Manager (Enterprise) at Inmarsat

Since the invention of the copper wire telephone network in 1876 – otherwise known as the public switch telephone network (PSTN) – the way in which we communicate has changed drastically.

Over time, our expectations around the speed and quality of communications have continued to increase. Today, limiting connectivity to locations where physical wiring is present is no longer adequate.

The increase in demand for Internet Protocol-enabled (IP) services and the improvement in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is also making PSTN less and less relevant, while the concept of supporting two sets of infrastructure – IP and PSTN – is simply commercially unviable.

The great PSTN switch-off

In the UK, the telecoms industry has already recognised that PSTN is becoming obsolete and has set a deadline, backed by the UK government, to switch off the old copper network at the end of 2025. The same ‘switch off’ is occurring around the world more broadly, although the specified end date varies across countries.

Ultimately, everyone using PSTN-based services – businesses and public services alike – will need to switch network at some point in the not-too-distant future to maintain operational capability.

Put simply, PSTN will soon be unable to meet our basic needs, so it is more important than ever that we start to embrace the future of connectivity.

Post-PSTN reality – a hybrid future?

Research conducted by Zen Internet reveals that 72% of businesses are reliant on traditional telephony, especially larger enterprises.

With PSTN shutting down, companies are increasingly moving across to IP networks, however, there are concerns that terrestrial solutions alone may struggle to deliver the high level of service required by businesses. For instance, in July 2022, a quarter of Canada was cut off from the Internet, as well as landline and cellular services, for nearly a day because one of Canada’s major telecoms providers – Rogers – suffered an outage.

Complete reliance on terrestrial IP networks, such as IP over fibre or Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks, present a more significant risk to users whose infrastructure spans remote regions of the globe. Such solutions risk connectivity gaps along the grid, damage from extreme weather conditions and, ultimately, do not offer the same level of reliability as PSTN at present.

That said, even with PSTN itself boasting an overall availability of 99.999% – a rate unmatched by any other terrestrial network meaning the system should experience no more than five minutes of downtime per year – there is always a risk when relying on a single network for your connectivity needs.

The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano in the southern Pacific Ocean last December is a prime example of how reliance upon on a single network can be risky.

Despite the dependability of PSTN under normal circumstances, the eruption triggered a tsunami which resulted in the destruction of 80km of phone and internet cables in the Polynesian country of Tonga, making the island’s 105,000 residents almost entirely unreachable until the cable was restored more than five weeks later.

It is no surprise then that mission critical industries currently utilising PSTN are exploring a mix of alternative solutions to provide universal availability, high reliability and low operating costs post-switch-off. This is where satellite connectivity comes in.

The role of satellite connectivity

Satellite connectivity comes in many shapes and sizes from operators with varying experience and capability, so it is important to choose the right one to meet your needs.  Considering size, weight and power requirements are significant factors in selecting an appropriate terminal, while reliability, weather resilience and network coverage are key in choosing the right satellite network.

Secure, dependable satellite connectivity is particularly essential to the effective running of remote operations, powering Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to help businesses optimise the uptime of critical infrastructure, increase operational transparency, monitor real-time operations, and ensure the safety of employees, to name but a few of its benefits.

This is where businesses such as Inmarsat, the world leader in global, mobile satellite communications, come in to provide high-level connectivity in the remotest of locations and through the most adverse weather conditions. Many companies are already reaping these rewards, with Inmarsat’s ELERA network offering ultra-secure, highly reliable and cost-efficient satellite connectivity to companies across the globe.

For instance, Inmarsat partnered with OnixSat in 2017 to provide the Brazilian utilities giant, Cemig with improved connectivity to manage operations across its electric grid in the state of Minas Gerais. By deploying Inmarsat’s BGAN terminal technology powered by the ELERA network, Cemig was able to enhance its remote recloser monitoring and control capabilities, helping to restore power supply more quickly than before and, ultimately, improving the service it provides customers.

Inmarsat has gone on to provide similar services for numerous energy and utilities companies around the world, including across the UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Australia.

Life after PSTN

As we move closer to the great PSTN switch-off, a combination of satellite connectivity paired with terrestrial solutions will likely provide the optimal solution for business’ connectivity needs. With each of these networks sitting within the broader family of IP solutions, it is likely that there will be a high level of compatibility between them, providing a straight-forward, combined solution for companies.

By leveraging a mix of these networks, mission critical businesses around the world will be able to maintain extremely high levels of reliability, providing a seamless changeover for them in addition to opening up a whole new world of IoT-powered opportunities in a post-PSTN world.

How is the rise of satellite communications disrupting the mobile ecosystem? Join the experts in discussion at this year’s live Total Telecom Congress event

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