BT presses on with analogue switch off across UK

Moment builds for digital network transformation play by UK’s largest comms provider, announcing plans to switch off analogue services in areas including the country’s densest metropolitan areas and in rural Scotland

The broadband provision division of leading UK telco BT, Openreach, has revealed a further 28 exchange locations across the UK, covering an additional 184,000 premises, where the business is planning to stop selling legacy analogue services to encourage the adoption of new digital services over a full-fibre connection.

BT plans to evolve its national communications network by switching off the legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) in December 2025. 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BT believes that, over time, the PSTN will become outdated and difficult to maintain.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 in the process of transitioning 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.

In practical terms, Openreach has been implementing a UK-wide “stop-sell” on sales of new analogue Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) and related broadband ISP products. To help prepare the transition, Openreach is stopping the sale of copper based analogue services in exchange areas where a majority of premises have access to its full-fibre network.

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)/full-fibre broadband networks. Voice services will be an add-on to broadband, rather than offerings in their own right.

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.

The stop-sell plan brings the total number of locations – now notified for, or actively under BT’s stop-sell requirements – to 874 exchanges covering a total of around 8.2 million premises. Locations covered include the West Midlands, Scotland, Tyneside, Merseyside, Hertfordshire, London, Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Wales, Kent and Surrey.

Yet even as the roll out plans continue apace, Openreach has had to alert service 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.

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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