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There's an ambitious plan to get rid of Britain's traditional phone network. Almost all landlines and ISDN lines are due to stop working in December 2025.
"That's years away. I'll worry about it later," you may be tempted to think.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Changes are happening long before 2025 and will affect a vast array of telecoms services:
In some locations, you can no longer order a standard landline, an ADSL connection or FTTC broadband. You can only order Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) connections because the local area is ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to moving away from the old phone network - the so-called Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).
The announced changes will affect you in three ways:
There are restrictions on new orders and changes to existing services.
There are forced product migrations, where your communications provider must switch you to alternative products if you're to avoid being cut off.
Finally, legacy services will be discontinued if you haven't migrated.
They'll stop working in December 2025 because the underlying wholesale product - Wholesale Line Rental - will be retired.
If you want a landline, you'll need to subscribe to a VoIP service that runs over the top of your data connection.
If you want to keep your landline number, you will need to transfer that existing number to a VoIP service.
If you need your phone to work during a power cut, you and your ISP will need to arrange for a suitable backup power source to be connected to the Openreach equipment at your site and possibly to your broadband router too.
You won't be able to order new analogue landlines after September 2023. That restriction is already in place in some areas with high levels of full fibre coverage.
Instead of using FTTC running over a working phone line, you'll be switched over to a service that provides FTTC on a dialtone-free line. This replacement service is known as Generic Ethernet Access, GEA or GEA-FTTC.
Once around 75% of premises on a telephone exchange are able to order FTTP or SOGFAST, it won't be long until those premises are barred from ordering FTTC (GEA-FTTC) or ADSL (SOTAP).
These digital circuits - used to connect older business phone systems to the phone network - will stop working in December 2025.
From September 2023, you won't be able to order new ISDN lines or change the number of channels you have.
Your options will be to switch to an IP-based alternative or get an ISDN/SIP converter, so your calls can run over the top of your data connection.
That will depend on how you get your ADSL.
If you have a standard analogue BT phone line over which an ADSL service runs, your underlying connectivity products will need to be changed prior to December 2025. Your ISP will only be able to order ADSL's replacement (SOTAP) if there's no better broadband option available at your location. In other words, it's likely you'll need to switch from ADSL to FTTC's replacement (SOGEA), G.FAST's replacement (SOGFAST) or FTTP.
If your phone line physically doesn't plug into BT's exchange equipment but solely to that of a local loop unbundler at your local telephone exchange, your ADSL will be unaffected - for now. However, if you change communications provider, you'll be subject to the 'new order' restrictions in place at your premises. In other words, it's likely you'll need to switch from ADSL to FTTC, G.FAST or FTTP.
You will need to talk to your alarm provider about installing an IP-based alternative. Alarms can no longer rely on your phone line being powered by the local telephone exchange. So you'll need to install a local power source and possibly a battery backup too.
This change will impact many burglar alarms, lift alarms and pendant alarms used by the elderly.
They'll be replaced with SOGFAST connections (Single Order G.Fast).
Fax isn't part of the PSTN switch-off plans. However the UK telecoms regulator - OFCOM - has indicated it is considering removing fax compatibility from the 'Universal Service Obligation.'
Assuming we know where this is heading, most business telecom providers, including hSo, will still offer fax-compatible phone services, but no one will be under any regulatory obligation to do so.
These are being commercially phased out, as they are based on the EFM connectivity provider (or their supplier) placing several orders for a 'Metallic Path Facility' product which is going to be subject to 'stop-sell' restrictions where FTTC and FTTP are available.
We'll have to wait and see. We suggest you plan on the basis of there being no last-minute extensions.
Switching from a copper-based telecoms network to a fibre-based one will slash costs - which will eventually lead to lower costs for consumers and businesses. Instead of needing 5600 telephone exchanges, Openreach will just have to pay for 1000. Fewer engineers will be needed, as fibre-optic transmissions are more reliable than copper-based alternatives.
Forcing customers to sign up for a VoIP service will also increase competition, especially in regard to telecom service features.
At some point, we expect existing customers to be forced to migrate to FTTP from SOTAP, SOGEA and SOGFAST. We expect Metallic Path Facility (MPF) to be withdrawn, forcing existing users of MPF-based services to migrate to FTTP.
FTTP coverage isn't wide enough for this to happen yet, nationwide. Under nine million UK premises can order FTTP as of November 2022. By 2027, that figure should be 25 million. That means forced migrations to FTTP will be viable at an ever larger number of telephone exchanges.
BT's infrastructure division, Openreach, will start decommissioning 4600 of its 5600 telephone exchanges. Copper landlines may be pulled from ducts and melted down for use in electric vehicles, among other things. That will free up space in ducts for fibre-optic cables.
Meanwhile, another of our partners, Virgin Media, will upgrade much of its network from hybrid fibre/coax to full fibre.
We're likely to see industry consolidation among the full fibre network builders, with a handful of largescale providers left standing. We expect another of our partners, CityFibre, to retain its leadership among its peers.
With full fibre almost everywhere, typical maximum download speeds are likely to shoot up from less than 100Mbps today to multiple gigabits.
We'll be contacting all affected hSo customers to arrange the necessary service migrations.
So, whether we provide your landlines, ADSL lines, EFM circuits, ISDN connections or FTTC connections, we will be in touch with your organisation in due course.