The digital switchover
What is the digital switchover?
The UK’s copper analogue telephone network is being retired by the end of 2025.
The change, also referred to as the ‘Copper Switch Off’, ‘Digital Voice’ and the ‘Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) Switch Off’, is already underway and most telephone providers are in the process of moving their customers from old analogue landlines over to new upgraded landline services using the internet.
Why is it happening?
Landline telephone services in the UK have relied on copper wires and analogue signals for over a century.
Over time the copper phone network has degraded and is no longer as efficient as it once was. Also, replacement parts are hard to find and this means keeping the service running becomes increasingly difficult.
The decision to upgrade the network has been taken by the telecommunications industry. The new network will provide a future-proof, more reliable and dependable broadband service that will cope with modern demands and support the UK for decades to come.
What will happen?
Fixed-line operators, such as Openreach and Virgin Media O2, will replace analogue telephone services with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, also known as ‘Digital Voice’.
Digital voice services work using broadband connections rather than copper phone lines.
The upgrade will be delivered by the telecoms industry in a phased approach over the next couple of years, with the whole network expected to be fully upgraded to VoIP services by the end of 2025.
The switchover will happen on a telephone exchange-by-exchange basis and not on a regional basis.
What does it mean for me? What do I need to do?
Anyone with a landline in the UK will be affected.
This doesn’t just impact phone calls. Any devices that connect to your existing phone line such as alarms, door entry systems, CCTV and payment devices will be impacted by this change.
The good news is your landline isn’t going anywhere, and for most this change will be straightforward. In fact, many customers are already making the switch when they upgrade to full fibre broadband.
The Communications Provider (CP) that supplies your phone line services, such as Sky and TalkTalk, will contact you before the planned switch over date to check in and discuss what you need to do to make sure your service isn’t affected.
If you have any concerns, you can contact your phone line supplier at any time to ask what their plans are for your phone line.
If you have an internet connection, the change may be as simple as plugging your phone into your broadband router rather than the socket on the wall. However, if you do not have a broadband service, contact your phone supplier to find out what their plans are for you. Digital voice services (VoIP) require a broadband connection.
You need to check whether your existing devices are VoIP compatible. You should be able to check this on your VoIP supplier’s website.
Anyone who wishes to keep their existing phone number must apply to transfer (port) their number to their chosen VoIP Provider before ceasing their existing voice service.
If you have friends or relatives who rely on their landline services, please speak to them about the digital switchover and what they need to do.
What does it mean for my business?
All businesses will need to upgrade their telecoms systems.
Moving to a full fibre broadband network and / or a VoIP phone system is essential – otherwise, you risk losing the ability to communicate with your customers.
Any businesses with or responsible for premises will need to look at the physical systems in place, such as emergency lift lines and fire or alarm systems, as they either won’t work at all or won’t work consistently on a new internet protocol (IP) network.
The main risk for health and social care businesses is that telecare services will be affected and require upgrading and/or adapting to fit the new technology.
To ensure minimal disruption to your business, it is important that you begin your switchover as soon as possible. You are also strongly encouraged to carry out an inventory check for your own organisation, to find out what devices you use today that rely on analogue lines, all of which in future will be replaced by a full fibre or VoIP service.
What are the benefits?
- Improved sound quality: Modern VoIP Calls have come a long way from the early days and sound clearer with limited dropouts, tinny voices or delays. The better your internet connection, the higher your call quality.
- Better Reliability: Digital services run across multiple data centres. If one goes down, traffic switches seamlessly to another and your service carries on regardless providing better reliability.
- Keep your current number: If you speak to your VoIP provider before switching over, you can transfer (port) your number.
- Cost saving is one of the major reasons many homes and businesses are already using a digital phone service. With VoIP services you are only paying for the service, rather than installation, operation, and maintenance of traditional copper landline services.
Where can I get more information in the meantime?
UK Government has released guidance on UK transition from analogue to digital landlines – what the retirement of analogue phone lines means for you.
Openreach has published a webpage where you can find answers to common questions relating to the move to a digital phone line. They have also developed industry factsheets, more FAQs and other resources to support anyone who sells, services or uses products that connect through the analogue telephone network.
Which? has published guidance about digital voice and landline switchover for residents.
What else do I need to consider?
- Digital landlines cannot carry a power connection, so in the event of a power cut they will not work. If you have a mobile phone this can still be used (as long as it is charged), but if you’ve no other means of calling the emergency services, contact your telecoms provider who will offer a solution to allow calls to be made to emergency services.
- There should be no additional costs for installation or use. The phone service providers will provide the routers and adaptors. The only time you may be required to pay more is if you upgrade your broadband or if your phone needs replacing because it is too old to be able to use the new system.
- Any change provides an opportunity for scammers to take advantage. Please be careful and check who you are talking to. Take advice from your phone company or if you are offered anything from anyone else, check with them. If you feel you have been a victim of fraud or a scam related to the digital switchover, contact your bank immediately if your bank account was used in a scam. Banks may be able to take action to help you. Any scams or fraudulent activity can be reported to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via their website.