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The UK's telephone network is going digital. Backed by the UK government, the telecoms industry will say goodbye to the old copper network by the end of 2025. Find out what this means for you.
BT Digital Voice and PSTN switch-off mean the same thing - Landline phones are going digital. Keep reading to learn more about upcoming changes to your landline service.
Plans to switch off the PSTN (public switched telephone network) and plans for phone lines to go digital have been in motion since before 2021, but we understand that many people were left in the dark. Who will this affect? These changes will affect everyone who has a landline they'd like to keep using; soon these will work via a broadband connection instead.
Digital voice services are the future of landlines – they work using broadband connections rather than copper phone lines. Digital Voice is the name BT uses for its digital voice service. You may also hear 'VoIP', 'IP voice' 'Sky Voice' 'TalkTalk Voice' or other branded labels when referring to the Digital Voice Service.
PSTN stands for Public Switched Telephone Network – it's the copper phone network that delivers analogue landline phone services. The plan is for it to be switched off at the end of 2025 and for all landline services to be offered digitally.
The UK isn’t the first country to make this move. Estonia and the Netherlands have already switched off their PSTNs, and France, Germany and Japan are just some of the other countries that are also in the process of winding theirs down.
Broadband connections rely on fibre optic networks, which don’t only offer faster speeds than copper but are more reliable, more resilient, and easier to maintain. Not to mention our communication needs have changed drastically over time. As phone services begin to phase out the use of the copper network, by 2025 the aim is for full fibre coverage to reach 85% in the same year.
Your landline provider should get in touch with you when it's coming to the time for you to migrate. Customers will be contacted four weeks before they are migrated, so there shouldn't be any surprises.
Initially digital phone services were offered to customers when they switched broadband providers or upgraded to full fibre broadband. Now you may be asked if you’d like to give up a phone line altogether. BT has already migrated hundreds of thousands of customers to its Digital Voice service in a region-by-region roll out. It is focusing on vulnerable customers who are most ready to switch, like those with a healthcare pendant or landline-only customers. Those in areas with no mobile reception won't be proactively switched for now.
Traditional phone services will continue to work for a couple of years but won't be offered to new customers and will be withdrawn entirely by December 2025. Therefore, if you don't want to upgrade to a digital phone service, it’s likely that you won't have to just yet. However, in the unlikely event that the infrastructure in your local area were to fail due to the malfunctional copper lines and phone exchanges not being replaced, you may be migrated sooner.
Digital phone services work using something called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Also known as IP voice or Digital Voice. VoIP converts your voice into a digital signal, so that it can be sent between computers and other devices on the internet. It's the same technology used by services like FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp. However, most people won't notice the difference when compared to making and receiving calls through a traditional landline.
The changeover should be straightforward. Many phones, particularly the DECT cordless phones, will continue working as normal, except you'll have to plug it into your router or a new socket instead. Other phones may require an adapter. Older phones, however, might need to be replaced. It's likely that providers will offer a new model, but it might come at a cost. Some people might need their provider to provide a new or upgraded router.
Once set up, your phone will work in much the same way it always has. You'll be able to keep the same phone number and will still hear a dial tone when you lift the handset. You'll also pay for calls in the same way as before – even if they're delivered using your broadband connection.
If migrating to a digital phone line without upgrading to full fibre, there won’t be any change to the physical infrastructure. Your service will work using the wiring that’s already in place – you’ll simply need to connect your phone via your router.
When upgrading to full fibre services, fibre optic cables will need to be installed in your home. An engineer will be required to set up the service and connect using overground or underground cables.
According to Openreach, just over half of properties can be connected using existing telegraph poles – a line from the pole – the pole will be attached to your home. But in other cases, the fibre optic cables will be delivered underground through to an external wall of your property. Openreach uses techniques to minimise disruption to the property with tools that can burrow underneath a driveway or garden, so you don’t need to worry about a large trench being dug through your patio.
In both cases, the engineer will also need to drill a small hole in an outside wall of your property to allow you to connect to the service.
If your current phone is a digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) phone, then it may work with Digital Voice, though it may need an adaptor, which some providers might provide for free. Once the Digital Voice is implemented, your phone will be connected differently (via a router) but should work in much the same way otherwise. It’s stated that 99% of current phones will work with its Digital Voice service, but some older models may need to be replaced.
No. Be aware that scammers have attempted to exploit people or convince them they need to share personal information for their burglar alarm or healthcare device to continue working. Be cautious.
No – you can choose not to have a phone line at all. Providers offer 'broadband-only' deals so you can select a service that doesn't have a landline included. However, if you do want a landline phone service, it'll have to be a digital voice service from 2025.
If you currently only have a landline, you won't be forced to pay for broadband services that you don't want or need. Your digital phone service will work using a special dedicated broadband connection and shouldn't cost any more than what you pay now. BT has made a specific commitment to telecoms regulator Ofcom that its customers will pay the same amount, and Virgin Media says its voice-only customers will get the hub necessary for its digital phone services at no additional cost.
Analogue phone services continue to work in a power outage unlike digital services.
For many, not having a landline won't be too much of a concern as 98% of British adults have a mobile phone. Did you know that Mobile voice calls don't require 4G or 5G? Therefore, nearly all UK's properties get reception strong enough for indoor calls from at least one of the phone networks. (If you call 999, it doesn't matter which provider you're signed up to, your mobile phone will connect to whichever network is available).
Landline/broadband providers are responsible for additional protections for non-mobile phone users to ensure customers can reach emergency services.
BT is supplying vulnerable customers with a battery backup that will ensure digital phone services will work for an additional hour if any outage occurs and hybrid phones that can also work using mobile networks. Virgin Media's solution for those who need it is a device with its own battery that allows the landline phone to connect to mobile phone services.
If you don’t have reliable mobile signal, you should be offered a battery backup, but keep in mind that it will only support your router. Most cordless phones will lose power in a power outage (because the base unit needs mains power), so you’ll need a corded phone you can use, if necessary.
Note: DECT cordless phones won't work in power outages, and mobile networks may also be affected. BT is currently working with power suppliers to help ensure that digital phone network resilience is prioritised if there’s a storm or other event that could cause outages.
If you rely on your landline or have a landline-dependent healthcare device, then you can make your provider aware of your concerns before you’re migrated. All Telecare device users will not be forced to use digital phone services if UK providers are confident that customers will be left with a compatible and functional telecare solution in place. Providers have solutions in place for those who don't have a mobile phone or have poor reception.
The copper phone network supports Landline and healthcare devices such as burglar alarms, ATMs and card machines to traffic lights, motorway signs and railway signals. It supports thousands of personal alarms and home monitoring systems that allow disabled people, the elderly, or anyone with health problems to access help if they need it. There are 1.7 million people using these telecare devices in the UK.
This depends on the system in your home and who it was provided by. Unfortunately, some security systems won’t be compatible with Digital Voice. Companies will also need to be mindful that compatibility is likely to depend on the specific system in question.
It’s a good idea to contact your burglar alarm provider to find out more about whether it will still work. Some will still work via your router and an adaptor, but others may require upgrading or replacement, which may come at a cost. You should be given plenty of time to weigh up your options.
In some cases, yes. The industry has been planning for the switchover. Tunstall, a major telecare developer, has audited its equipment and planned a strategy to identify devices that won't continue to work. BT and Openreach have also been working with the providers of telecare devices to test if they work with digital phone services.
Some existing devices will continue to work using a digital phone service, but others will need to be replaced. This could be an opportunity for an upgrade – a landline phone that uses a Sim card might be a good idea. Here’s one that is new to market: https://www.sarabec.com/product/geemarc-cl9000-4g-emergency-response-telephone-with-sos-bracelet . With this, you don't need to worry about a power failure.
Be reassured that you will not be asked to move to a digital phone service until your landline provider and telecare company are confident you will have a compatible and functional telecare device. Usually, either a local authority or a private provider would check whether the device will still work with a digital landline. Larger providers will know which devices won't work with digital phone services and have planned around this. Many of the devices in use today have been specifically designed to work using both analogue and digital systems.
Please note that some of the information and statistics shared in this blog were taken from the official WHICH? Platform. Please see here to read the full article: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/broadband/article/digital-voice-and-the-landline-phone-switch-off-what-it-means-for-you-aPSOH8k1i6Vv
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