Openreach warns UK firms to check comms CPE ahead of analogue switch-off

Ahead of current analogue phone network reaching the end of its life by December 2025, UK broadband provider advises firms to start checking digital compatibility of CPE such as alarm services, lifts, payment card readers and medical equipment

Ahead of its planned closure of traditional telephony services, broadband provider Openreach is calling on UK businesses to start planning for life without the analogue phone network, by conducting an audit of their systems and devices to discover potential compatibility issues.

At the heart of the matter is Openreach’s ambition to transition more than 14 million traditional lines across the UK onto a new digital service by December 2025, a time that the company has said the old analogue phone network (PSTN) will have reached the end of its life and new, digital services will come into in use.

Given that in businesses and organisations, a range of systems – such as alarm services, lifts, payment card readers and even medical equipment – can be reliant on phone lines, compatibility checks will need to be made before the upgrade to digital gigabit networks.

Following its decision to shut down the PSTN, Openreach 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 in May 2021, a Mildenhall trial began in earnest. The test in Mildenhall was 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 such as lifts and alarms, and it’s in this area trouble could lie ahead.

Over the next couple of years, firms will be encouraged to upgrade voluntarily by their service providers – but conducting an audit now will ease this process and make sure there is no disruption in service. Openreach noted that this was particularly important for organisations in key national infrastructure sectors such as chemicals, civil nuclear, communications, defence, emergency services, energy, finance, food, government, health, space, transport and water, which are necessary for the UK to function.

As a first step in understanding the needs of their specific organisation, Openreach is encouraging businesses to conduct a thorough review of all the current devices that rely on their phone lines or the phone lines of their customers. This, it said, will make sure they’re prepared for the logistical challenges that come with the upgrade. It is advising firms to list all the devices they currently have plugged into master sockets and any extensions on the premises, and to speak now to their service providers and suppliers of hardware devices to check how these will work when upgraded to digital phone lines.

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To retire the analogue phone network by the end of 2025, an average of 50,000 analogue lines will need to be upgraded to digital every week.

A Call Waiting List will provide bespoke advice for businesses of different sizes, in different sectors and with different needs, so they know how and when they need to take action. This, said Openreach, was particularly important for vital critical national infrastructure organisations, to make sure the upgrade can go ahead with minimal disruption for the wider public.

“Ahead of the switch from analogue to digital phone lines, it’s crucial that businesses understand their current systems and the implications of the shift,” said James Lilley, director of ALL-IP at Openreach.

“This upgrade will provide the nation with faster, more reliable services and will allow devices to become more connected, providing UK industry with a framework from which it can develop innovative emerging technologies. Taking these simple steps now will make the process of upgrading much smoother.

“For those businesses that want to understand more, we’d encourage them to sign up to our Call Waiting List, which will provide organisations with regular updates about our activities and the potential implications on their operations, as well as guidance and examples of how they can make the transition a smooth one,” he said.

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