BT begins roll-out of Digital Voice across UK East Midlands

Latest part of incumbent telco’s strategy to evolve national communications network sees new voice offering deployed

Having undertaken trials of the service in pilots in the Salisbury and Mildenhall areas of the country, UK telco BT has begun the roll-out of its next-generation home phone service, Digital Voice, on a region-by-region basis, starting with the East Midlands.

The deployment forms part of a strategy by BT to make good on its commitment to switch off its analogue communications network by 2025. Specifically, the decision taken by BT broadband division Openreach in 2019 that the old analogue public switched telephone network (PSTN) will have reached the end of its life by 2025, and that new, digital services will be in use.

To realise its plan on a national basis, the company said it would 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.

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. Even though a third (33%) of businesses were still using ISDN as their underlying communications infrastructure, telecommunications providers will have to comply with a stop-sell order in 2023.

In August 2021, Openreach alerted users that if they 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 could work over the new fibre network. Furthermore, there were fears that 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.

Bidding to address this issue, BT said what it called a “once-in-a-generation upgrade to future-proof the UK’s landlines” was essential, and would replace technology that it said is fast becoming obsolete. BT stressed that the landline was not going away, and for most customers, making the switch simply involves plugging your phone into a broadband router instead of into a wall-mounted phone socket, bringing new benefits such as advanced spam call blocking.

Read more about analogue switch off

The telco assured that customers in the East Midlands would be contacted at least four weeks in advance before making the switch, to ensure they are ready to move to Digital Voice. It also stressed it would not be proactively switching anyone it knew who fell under certain criteria, namely: customers with a healthcare pendant; customers who are over 70; customers who only use landline; customers with no mobile signal; or customers who have disclosed any additional needs.

BT also noted that for almost all customers, Digital Voice would have no impact on how they use their home phone, retaining the same service, and price plan and bills. BT also calculated that more than 99% of phone handsets work with Digital Voice, and for those that won’t, it had a range of handsets that customers could order.

“BT customers in the East Midlands will benefit from a tried and tested service, with around two million BT customers already having made the switch and benefitting from the many advantages of digital home phones from advanced scam call filtering capabilities to crystal-clear call audio,” said Vicky Hicks, senior engagement manager at BT Group. “For almost everyone, moving to Digital Voice will be a simple and free transition with no home installation work required.”

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