Openreach marks copper network switch-off milestone

UK telco claims to have marked major milestone on road towards switching off old copper-based phone platform

Leading UK telco BT has ramped up the pace of its plans to evolve its national communications network by switching off the legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) in December 2025, and has revealed the implementation by its Openreach broadband provision division of a UK-wide “stop-sell” on sales of new analogue Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) and related broadband ISP products.

The announcement forms the latest part of BT’s ambition to make good on its commitment to switch off its analogue communications network by 2025. This follows the announcement made by Openreach in 2019 that the PSTN will have reached the end of its life by 2025, and that new, digital services will be in use.

BT believes that over time, the PSTN will become outdated and difficult to maintain. In addition, it said legacy network skills and parts are increasingly difficult to come by, and new digital services such as Voice over IP (VoIP), video conferencing and a whole range of apps have become more popular and effective for people communicating with one another.

To realise its plan on a national basis, BT is having 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, withdraw 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 offerings in their own right.

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.

Even though a third of businesses were still using ISDN as their underlying communications infrastructure, BT insisted that comms providers will have to comply with a stop-sell order in 2023. There have also been fears that older telephones – currently powered by local telephone exchanges – 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.

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BT said the new mandate will not impact existing users of these products until the 2025 deadline, meaning anybody looking to order a traditional analogue copper phone line rental (WLR and SMPF) service from a provider for the first time – including any linked broadband services such as FTTC, or ADSL – will no longer be able to do so.

“WLR is used by a number of our Communications Provider [CP] customers, and we’ve been working closely with them for years to help them prepare for the change,” said Openreach director of managed customer migrations James Lilley.

“As part of that process, we’re now taking the significant step of ending the sale of WLR across the UK. That means from today, when CP customers sign up to a new contract – or when they switch, upgrade or regrade their service via their provider – they’ll be moved onto a new digital line rather than an analogue one.

“We’ll continue to do everything we can, working closely with our CP customers, to upgrade vulnerable customers and those customers using Critical National Infrastructure as safely and smoothly as possible, and we have the processes in place to ensure this happens,” he said.

“Ideally, the new service will be delivered over our brand-new full-fibre network – which is already available to 11 million homes and businesses nationwide. We’re determined to deliver a world-class, modern and reliable communications service for the entire UK, and today is another important step towards the UK’s digital transformation.”

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