Traditional phone services will be withdrawn in December 2025. In preparation, landline providers have already begun the process of switching UK home phones to a system that is solely internet-based. Companies such as BT are offering customers digital phone services when they are ready to upgrade their plans or switch broadband providers.
There is no obligation to swap to a digital phone service at the moment, as traditional phone services will continue functioning for another few years. However, traditional phone services won't be offered to new or re-contracting customers from 2023 onwards
Some areas may be forced to migrate systems early if their local phone line infrastructure fails because the copper lines and phone exchanges won't be replaced.
It is possible to keep the same landline number when you make the switch. You will need to let your phone provider know that you want to transfer the same number so that they can make the necessary arrangements. It may even be possible to keep multiple numbers, such as your home and business numbers.
The copper line system that is currently used in the UK is based on the same network that was created in the Victorian era. The current version was developed and installed in the 1980s. Whilst the network's infrastructure remains largely the same, the communication needs of the British public have dramatically changed. Some of the copper cables that are led underground have been part of the national network since the 19th century and cannot cope with the demands of the 21st century.
Broadband connections largely rely upon fibre optic networks, which offer faster speeds than the old copper network. The fibre optic networks have also proven more reliable, resilient, and easier to maintain than the old network.
Countries such as Estonia and the Netherlands have already turned their PSTN system off. Germany, France and Japan, amongst other locations, are soon set to follow.
Both domestic and business phones will be affected by the switch-off of the old copper phone network. Millions of people still use landlines, including small companies and households across the country. Individuals who still use fax will also be affected.
Other devices that use the copper network will also be affected by the change, including emergency alarms. This means that industries such as healthcare will experience a noticeable impact as they will have to digitalise their whole system. The same goes for businesses that use card machines, ATMs and burglar alarms.
Some telecare devices will continue working on the new digital system, but many others will need to be replaced as they are incompatible with the new network. Companies in the telecare industry are upgrading devices so that they can function on the digital network or by using a Sim card. These devices may also have their own battery pack so that they can operate independently and won't be impacted by a power cut.
Salisbury is one of the first locations in the UK that is transferring services outside of the home onto digital systems. The trial is set to finish at the end of 2022, and the findings will help to make the transition easier for other businesses and industries as they prepare to make the switch too.
PTSN stands for Public Switched Telephone Network (sometimes called the traditional circuit-switched telephone network) and refers to the services and infrastructure of the public telecommunication system. The copper phone network operates on a global scale and provides analogue phone services on a regional and national level in the UK.
Calls are connected to a local exchange, which then transmits the calls to trunk, main and central exchanges. Phone lines within the same local exchange will typically have the same area code, which means that there is no need to dial the area code too. However, calls made outside of the local exchange require an area code to be added as they aren't part of the same exchange network. International calls also require a country code, which will start with a double zero.
Digital Voice, otherwise known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), is a digital phone service that converts phone calls into a digital signal that can be sent over the internet. It results in high-quality calls with HD calling that is far superior to the calls made using the traditional copper phone lines.
Voice over IP uses the internet or private wide area networks (WAN) to transmit voice communication. It means that there is no longer a need for circuit-switched networks when making phone calls. This system uses a program called codecs to transform audio into data packets. These packets can be transmitted over the IP network, which will then turn back into audio at the receiving end of the phone call.
PSTN, on the other hand, is a network of dedicated phone lines that allow calls to be made by routing them through multiple switches through centralised points in the network.
A single VoIP line uses 100 Kbps, although the total bandwidth required will depend on how many calls are occurring simultaneously. One PSTN link will usually support 64 Kbps in both directions.
Calls can continue when there is a power outage as the PSTN service will typically continue because the phone jacks are powered by a PSTN provider. However, the VoIP service will stop operating when there is a power outage as the data network connectivity will be lost. Cordless landline phones will also stop working during a power cut.
The Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is a system that was developed to provide digital data and voice transmission through the old PSTN network. The Integrated Service Digital Network provides better voice quality than the Public Switch Telephone Network and offers 128 Kbps, which is higher than PSTN's 64 Kbps in each direction.
The VoIP hub must be connected to the internet for you to make calls. The service won't work through a power cut or if the system is turned off. However, you can set up a forwarding system so that calls from your home or business desk phone are redirected to your mobile phone if there is a problem with the power.
Calls made through VoIP services use IP networks instead of telephone lines. The communication data is sent in packets through an IP network that could also be the internet connection that you use for other devices and systems. This means that some plans offer free domestic and non-domestic calls as you only pay for the internet connection rather than each individual call. However, you might also be using a pay-as-you-go plan, which means that you will have to pay for each call.
Digital Voice services offer more features than a traditional phone line would. You can set up voicemail-to-text transcripts to be sent directly to your email. Voicemails and messages can also be easily forwarded to other people from your phone. Hosting and participating in conference calls is also much easier with VoIP systems because the calls will use a converged data network rather than multiple phone lines.
Phone calls made to Digital Voice devices can be redirected if you are out and about. You can therefore answer the call no matter where you are, as long as you have a good connection.
Extra features such as voicemail, call diversion and call waiting are usually included with Digital Voice services, but you would likely pay more money for these features for a traditional landline.
You won't have to worry about changes to the physical infrastructure of your phones if you are only migrating to a digital phone line (without upgrading to full-fibre broadband). The system will be set up to use the wiring that is already in your home, and your phone will just have to be connected to the router.
Fibre optic cables will need to be installed in your house if you want to upgrade and use full-fibre services. You will need an engineer to set up the new system, which may use either underground or overground cables.
Some properties can be connected using existing telegraph poles, whilst others will have to have underground fibre optic cables installed. The engineers can use special tools that minimise the disruption to properties in the area, which can burrow under gardens, driveways and fences so that large trenches don't have to be built.
The engineer will have to drill a small hole in the exterior of the property (whether they use underground or overground cables) so that the phone system is connected.
There's no need for you to have a new phone line installed — you can even choose to have no phone line at all. Phone and internet providers can offer 'broadband only' deals so that you can select a service that doesn't feature a landline. However, if you do decide that you want a phone line, you will only be offered a Digital Voice service from 2025.
You also won't be forced to buy broadband services if you don't want or need them. You could use a digital phone system that uses a dedicated broadband connection that should cost the same amount as the plan that you currently pay for. BT has already committed to charging customers the same amount when they switch over, whilst Virgin Media will provide its voice-only customers with digital phone services hub at no extra cost.
Around one million individuals in the UK use voice-only systems, and many will not have access to broadband systems as a result. This group consists mainly of people who are older, financially vulnerable, unemployed or from a low socioeconomic background.
These individuals may be at risk of digital exclusion unless they are supported through the transition by phone providers and landline services. It's important that companies use transparency and provide easy-to-understand information for at-risk customers during the process, which is why many phone providers have already pledged to offer extra assistance to these customers.
There are other devices that rely upon the phone network besides landlines. This includes door entry systems, ATMs, card machines and even traffic lights. The old copper network also supports railway signals and healthcare devices, such as thousands of personal alarms that older and disabled people use if they need help. All of these devices will need to be replaced with digital solutions before the copper network is switched off.
Analogue phone services can continue to work if there is a power outage. However, this is not the case for digital phone services as they will stop working without power. The vast majority of the UK have mobile phones, which means that most people can still make outgoing calls (most importantly to emergency services) during power cuts. Unfortunately, not everyone has a mobile phone which could leave some households without access to a phone during power cuts. To combat this, some phone providers are giving vulnerable customers battery packs that will provide their digital phone services with enough power to continue working for an hour or two after the power cut begins.