Spark NZ to junk its clunky old PSTN for fancy new IP-based network

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Spark New Zealand has announced it is finally time to join the IP network bandwagon, and plans to swap out its aging PSTN to a next generation IP-based network in phases over the next five years.

The new network will provide the foundation for Spark’s voice services in the future and enable richer, better customer experiences with voice, video, and collaboration features, said Spark’s Chief Operating Officer, Mark Beder.

“This is a significant and essential upgrade of our oldest network, providing us with a future- proof platform for the latest voice technology, and allowing us to develop and deploy new services,” Beder said. “We’ve been talking about doing this for over a decade now, and many other countries are also in the process of retiring their PSTNs, so it’s great to finally be able to get on with it here.”

Beder said that Spark’s legacy PSTN has served New Zealanders well for many decades, “but it’s now nearing end of life and the clock is ticking. Its last big upgrade, to a digital switching platform, was over 30 years ago. Maintaining the network is becoming harder and harder – components are no longer manufactured, we’ve bought every second-hand part we can source from around the world, and people with the skills to maintain the technology are harder to find.”

Beder also noted that customers are increasingly choosing alternatives to the old PSTN as their use of digital voice applications increase. “Already, around 50% of New Zealand homes and businesses are using other technologies like Voice over Fiber, Voice over Wireless, using their mobile for voice communications or relying on messaging applications. It’s time to make the switch.”

Beder says although the upgrade is a massive technical and logistical undertaking, it will be largely invisible to customers with minimal disruption to services.

Spark has already been successfully trialing the transition by consolidating and decommissioning ten of the smaller, more remote exchanges (out of the 482 PSTN exchanges scattered around the country), with another four exchanges to be decommissioned shortly, Beder said.

“These trials have been very successful. All the changes take place behind the scenes and disruption to customers has been minimal. The migration entails a small outage of a few minutes, scheduled during off-peak times for residential customers.”

Spark has named its planned IP network the “Converged Communications Network” (CCN). The telco added that while most customer devices in use today will be compatible with the CCN, there may be some rare exceptions with legacy low-speed dial up services such as older medical and house alarms, EFTPOS terminals and PABX systems.

Newer IP-based digital products with more and better functionality can replace these services and Spark will be working with vendors and customers to help make the transition as easy as possible for customers as the upgrade rolls out in coming years.

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