In 2017, BT announced the digital telephone switchover. Over eight years, the UK will move from analogue telephone to a faster digital system. With work already underway, BT plans to switch off the old network for good in 2025. This change will affect homes and businesses throughout the UK, including Lifeline equipment, but there is no need to panic. Whether you're a tech-whiz or a novice, this guide will explain everything you need to know about the switchover.
What's Wrong With the Current System?
Current landline technology largely resembles the original systems of the 1800s. An analogue phone network relies on physical components like copper wires to carry voice signals between users. This system is known as PSTN, or Public Switch Telephone Network.
When you make a call, switches in the network create a circuit between the caller and recipient. The worldwide network is now almost entirely digital, meaning that only the oldest sections still use analogue technology. This digital network, known as ISDN, has all but replaced PSTN. However, even these digital calls still depend on the old PSTN circuits. There's no doubt about it: the current system is ageing fast.
Due to more complex demands, the network is struggling to keep up. In order to meet the growing need, BT plans to retire both PSTN and ISDN by the end of 2025. With this in mind, let's take a look at what will replace them.
The New Digital System
If you speak to family and friends on Zoom, Skype or Whatsapp, you're likely already using the new system. This technology is called VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol. It allows users to make telephone calls via an internet connection. Therefore, VoIP removes the need for a physical transmitting device.
Benefits of VoIP
This system offers many benefits to users. Firstly, VoIP calls are notably cheaper than PSTN, particularly over long distances. For example, a landline call from the UK to the USA currently costs around 55p per minute. The same VoIP call could cost as little as 1.5p per minute.
Moreover, VoIP technology offers a faster connection for long-distance calls. A PSTN call carries voice signals over a physical circuit of wires, while a VoIP call converts the voice into digital data. This data is then transmitted via the internet to the recipient. This improvement in speed is great news for Lifeline24 alarm users, as mere seconds can make a vital difference. You will no longer have to wait for dial tones when calling our 24/7 Response Team – the digital network will connect you immediately.
Another benefit of going digital is that providers can make upgrades by flicking a switch. Obviously, this is way more efficient than digging up the street to lay new lines - not to mention the noise and disruption!
The benefits of VoIP are clear. Even so, you may be concerned about the digital telephone switchover. At this point, we want to try and address any doubts you may have.
Why is the Digital Telephone Switchover Happening?
The switchover may seem daunting, but it needn’t be. This is not the UK's first digital switchover. You will likely remember the switchover to digital TV in 2012. There are also plans for a radio switchover in the future. So why is telephone next on the agenda?
For one thing, the internet has revolutionised the way we communicate. The number of UK households with an internet connection has increased from 9% to 89% in just twenty years. With these new possibilities come new demands. The original network was designed just for voice calls, but homes and businesses nowadays have wider needs. Over time, it has become apparent that the current network is insufficient. The UK needs a system that can transmit a variety of data at high speeds. BT have therefore invested heavily in fibre broadband to improve high-speed internet connections.
The Drawbacks of PSTN
Meanwhile, PSTN infrastructure has become more difficult and costly to maintain. In other words, the longer we use both analogue and digital networks, the harder it becomes to maintain them both. In 2012, Britons made 103 billion minutes of landline calls. By 2017, this figure had nearly halved (54 billion minutes). Given this decline, a switch to digital seems the most sensible move.
Now that we understand why the switchover is happening, let's discuss what it will mean for the average user.
What Does the Telephone Switchover Mean for You?
In short: from 2025, you will no longer plug your landline phone into its own socket on the wall. Instead, it will be plugged into your Wi-Fi router and work off your household internet connection.
When it comes to the actual telephone service, most people will likely notice little difference. Just 3% of UK households have a landline connection with no broadband. Eventually, everyone will need a broadband connection to make and receive landline phone calls. However, most people will be able to keep using their current landline handsets with a VoIP adaptor.
If you don't currently have broadband, don't worry. The UK communications regulator, Ofcom, has said that providers must offer basic internet connections for phone calls only. You won't need to fork out for a superfast connection that you don't intend to use.
The digital telephone switchover is an exciting step forward, but it comes with its challenges. Many Lifeline alarm systems rely on a landline connection, so what does the switchover mean for Lifeline users?
The Telephone Switchover for Lifeline Alarm Users
Telecare alarms such as the Lifeline Vi Alarm use a traditional landline connection. As has been noted, landlines will be affected by the switchover, but this is no cause for concern. Your telephone provider can supply an Analogue Telephone Adaptor (ATA). This will convert analogue signals to digital, allowing you to continue using your Lifeline alarm as normal. This means that, during the digital telephone switchover, your Lifeline Vi alarm will function exactly as it does now.
What Do You Need to Do?
For the most part, individual users don't need to take any action. Instead, your telephone provider will contact you when work is about to begin in your area. They can offer you additional support and provide you with an ATA (Analogue Telephone Adaptor) if you need one.
To reiterate, the ATA will ensure that you do not lose service on your Lifeline alarm during the switchover. If you have any concerns about your Lifeline alarm service, please don't hesitate to give us a call on 0800 999 0400 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The digital telephone switchover will not happen overnight. BT began work in 2017 and are completing the project in phases. However, they have not published a schedule for this work. You can contact them directly to find out when they intend to start work in your area.
What About Retirement Schemes and Homes?
If you manage a retirement scheme or home that uses Lifeline equipment, you should start planning for the digital telephone switchover now. Your equipment is very likely to use an analogue connection. Therefore, your service will almost certainly be impacted by the switchover. The easiest way to start getting ready is to call Lifeline24 on 0800 999 0400. Our expert advisors will be happy to help you prepare for the switchover and ensure a seamless transition.
The Digital Telephone Switchover at Lifeline24
We understand that the switchover might be a concerning prospect. However, our alarm users can rest assured that they will continue to receive a reliable service. Lifeline24 is proud to provide a top quality service, accredited by industry body the TSA. During the switchover and beyond, we will continue to offer the best telecare products on the market. Our priority, as always, is to keep you safe and independent in your home.
If you or someone you know could benefit from a Lifeline alarm, be sure to get in touch. Our team is available 24/7 to help with any queries. At Lifeline24, we pride ourselves on staying up to date with the latest news and the most competitive deals. You can contact us online, or call 0800 999 0400.
Editor's Note: updated 18th August 2021.