Just days after announcing that the town of Mildenhall in Suffolk would be the second UK conurbation to see phone landlines moved from analogue technology to digital-based services, BT broadband provision division Openreach has announced it is extending its copper stop sell programme to another 77 UK locations.
The programme will mean homes and businesses won’t be able to buy copper broadband if they are upgrading, regrading or switching telecoms provider, and instead will only be able to order fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP or full-fibre) broadband networks – and voice services will be an add-on to broadband rather than a service in its own right.
Openreach proposes that by December 2025, the old analogue phone network (PSTN) will have reached the end of its life and new, digital services will be in use. In effect, the company will need to transition more than 14 million traditional lines across the UK onto new digital services.
Following the decision to shut down the PSTN, it was agreed to test processes for migrating customers to fibre services – and, ultimately, withdrawing legacy copper services and the withdrawal of wholesale line rental (WLR) products that rely on them – in two locations.
Salisbury was the first exchange in the UK to move to stop sell status in December 2020, and just days ago, the Mildenhall trial began in earnest.
Openreach says it chose the sites as it regarded them as typical exchange areas representative of others across the UK in terms of geography, the range of communications providers (such as BT, PlusNet, Sky, TalkTalk, Zen) offering Openreach services and its mix of businesses and consumers.
The trials will see 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.
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The end of copper network-based services in the 77 new locations – which include towns and cities across the four nations of the UK – is due for completion by 29 April 2022. Openreach says that up until this time it would be working closely with communications service providers to upgrade their customers onto the new network, which can deliver all manner of digital services over the top. This will bring the total number of exchange locations where it plans to stop selling copper-based services to 297, covering a total of 2.9 million premises.
“This is a really big deal for our industry as it marks the next step in the digital revolution,” said James Lilley, director of managed customer migrations at Openreach.
“While we’re building more and more full-fibre infrastructure across the country, we’re also working closely with our Communications Providers customers to plan the withdrawal of legacy services and make upgrades from copper to fibre as smooth as possible,” he said.
“This is the next step on that journey – a further commitment that we’ll stop selling copper products in areas where full-fibre’s going to be widely available. Just three years from now, we’ll stop selling analogue products nationwide and we’re already working to upgrade some 14 million analogue lines to digital by 2025.”
The test in Mildenhall is also specifically designed to allow Openreach and communication providers to test and develop new products and processes to make the migration smooth for customers including those who rely on special services like lifts and alarms, and it’s in this area that trouble could lie ahead.
Openreach has already warned that if users had anything connected to a phone line such as a care or security alarm, they would need to check with the equipment supplier if their devices could work over the new fibre network.
Moreover, older telephones – currently powered by the local telephone exchange – could be cut off from the new network if there was a power cut. In this scenario, Openreach advised that users may have to “do something different” to make home phone calls.