Mildenhall claims digital communications upgrade first for East of England

Openreach focuses on Suffolk market town for the next step towards upgrading to digital services, with properties now unable to buy copper broadband if they are upgrading, regrading or switching provider

Homes and businesses in the town of Mildenhall, Suffolk are soon to become early pioneers of BT broadband provision division Openreach’s work to move phone landlines from analogue technology to digital-based services.

Effective immediately, Openreach has issued a “stop sell” notification for the East of England town Mildenhall – meaning homes and businesses won’t be able to buy copper broadband if they are upgrading, regrading or switching provider, and instead will only be able to order fibre to the premises (FTTP, or full-fibre) broadband technology.

By December 2025, the old analogue public switched telephone network (PSTN) will have reached the end of its life in the UK, and new digital services will be in use. This means that more than 14 million traditional lines across the UK will be migrated onto new digital services over the next five years.

Following the decision to shut down the PSTN, it was agreed to trial the withdrawal of Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) products that rely on it in two locations – Salisbury and Mildenhall.

Salisbury was the first exchange in the UK to move to stop sell status in December 2020, designed to test the processes for migrating customers to fibre services and, ultimately, withdrawing legacy copper services.

Openreach said it chose Mildenhall as it regarded it as a typical exchange area representative of others across the UK in terms of geography, the range of communications providers (such as BT, PlusNet, Sky, TalkTalk, Zen, and so on) offering Openreach services, and its mix of businesses and consumers.

The Mildenhall trial will aim to further test the processes for withdrawing WLR and migrating customers from legacy copper services to replacement copper services, which will support the delivery of telephone services over broadband connections, such as single order generic ethernet access (SoGEA), its faster upgrade SoGfast, and Single Order Transitional Access Product (SOTAP), over which providers can deliver broadband and IP voice services.

“This is an important early step in upgrading the UK to Voice over IP technology and the withdrawal of products and services that run over the traditional telephone network – which is due to close in 2025,” said James Lilley, Openreach’s director of managed migrations, commenting on the migration.

“We’re working closely with service providers to make sure any changes happen as smoothly as possible. We also have extensive learning from our recent work in Salisbury, which became the first city in the UK to rely solely on digital services.”

The test is also designed to allow Openreach and communication providers (CPs) to develop new products and processes to make the migration smooth for customers, including those who rely on special services such as lifts and alarms – and this is one possible area, along with old corded phones, where there could be future trouble.

Openreach warned that if users had anything connected to a phone line, such as a care or security alarm, they would have to check with the technology supplier if they could work over the new fibre network.

Old corded phones are powered by the local telephone exchange and this will change in the transition, and so Openreach advised that users may have to “do something different” to make home phone calls during a power cut.

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