BT broadband provision division Openreach’s programme to upgrade the UK’s old analogue phone network (PSTN) to new digital products and services continues apace, with the announcement of a further 86 exchange locations across the UK, covering about 500,000 premises, added to its scheme.
Openreach proposes that by December 2025, the 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 wholesale line rental (WLR) products that rely on them – in two locations. When 75% of the homes and businesses connected to a particular exchange can get full-fibre, end users will not be able to buy the old copper products if full-fibre is available at their premises.
The programme is intended to result in homes and businesses not being 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. Voice services will be an add-on to broadband, rather than a service in its own right.
Salisbury was the first exchange in the UK to move to stop sell status in December 2020, and in May 2021 a trial began in the Suffolk town of Mildenhall.
Openreach chose these test sites because 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 the mix of businesses and consumers.
The trials saw 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.
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 is in this area that trouble could lie ahead.
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The latest extension of the scheme brings the total number of exchange locations where Openreach plans to stop selling legacy analogue services to 379, covering a total of 3.4 million premises. It has now published 12 months’ notice that it will stop selling copper services in these 86 exchanges. The locations include towns and cities across the four nations of the UK, including the Scottish islands.
“Just over two years from now, Openreach will stop selling products that rely on the PSTN,” said James Lilley, director managed customer migrations at Openreach. “And over the next five years, we’ll upgrade some 14 million analogue lines – including the now ageing traditional landline telephone service – to digital all-internet protocol [All-IP].
“Ultimately, the plan is to withdraw all services that rely on the old PSTN by December 2025 and, from that point on, communications providers will own the delivery of voice services. This is a really big deal for our industry. We are upgrading the UK’s digital infrastructure as we build our full-fibre network to 25 million homes and businesses by 2026.”
However, Openreach has already warned that if users have anything connected to a phone line such as a care or security alarm, they will need to check with the equipment supplier whether their devices can work over the new fibre network. Also, older telephones – currently powered by the local telephone exchange – could be cut off from the new network if there is a power cut. In this scenario, Openreach said users may have to “do something different” to make home phone calls.