Wednesday, 19 April 2017 11:43

Spark moving from old network to next-generation IP network Featured

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New Zealand’s largest telco Spark is switching services across the country from its ageing Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to a next-generation IP-based network.

The upgrade will see Spark progressively phase in the new network over the next five years to provide the foundation for its voice services into the future.

The new network will bring together all voice communications — landline, mobile, video or data-based — and Spark says it will provides the platform for new voice products and services into the future.

"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,” says Spark’s chief operating officer Mark Beder.

“The PSTN has served New Zealanders extremely 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 says increasingly, customers are choosing alternatives to the old copper-based 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 Fibre, Voice over Wireless, using their mobile for voice communications or relying on messaging applications. It’s time to make the switch.”  

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

“The vast majority of customers won’t need to do anything and their existing phones and devices will continue to work normally when they switch over from the PSTN to the new IP-based network, which Spark is dubbing the ‘Converged Communications Network’ (CCN).”

Beder says Spark has already been successfully trialling the transition by consolidating and decommissioning 10 of the smaller, more remote exchanges – out of the 482 PSTN exchanges scattered around the country. Another four exchanges will be decommissioned shortly.

“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 said that most customer devices being used today will be compatible with the CCN, “but 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 Beder says Spark will be working with vendors and customers on the transition.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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