BT calls out telecare providers and local authorities after delaying Digital Voice switchover

UK incumbent BT has once again tweaked its troubled plan to migrate customers from analogue to digital landlines.

Nick Wood

May 20, 2024

4 Min Read

Instead of completing the transition from the ageing public switched telephone network (PSTN) to a newer, IP-based voice service – called Digital Voice – by the end of 2025, the telco said on Monday that any remaining customers will be transferred by the end of January 2027.

BT said pushing back the deadline aligns with the rollout of its full fibre network, which is on track to pass 25 million premises by the end of 2026. As a result, the majority of consumer and business customers are expected to make the switch to Digital Voice as they upgrade from copper to fibre.

BT will also launch an interim dedicated landline service for consumer and business customers who don't use broadband in order to keep them connected during the migration from the PSTN. BT said it will install new equipment at local exchanges that will enable this segment to keep using their regular landline either until a digital solution becomes available or until 2030 – whichever comes sooner.

The Digital Voice switchover has been heavily criticised for moving too quickly, leaving customers who currently don't use broadband, and those who rely on analogue telecare devices at risk of being cut off in the event of a power outage.

A lot of backtracking has taken place, with BT temporarily halting the deployment to spend more time spreading awareness of the impending change, and putting in safeguards to protect the vulnerable. The effort culminated late last year with a government-led charter aimed at protecting these particular users.

BT, TalkTalk, Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) and Vodafone were among the first telcos to sign up, followed by a second crop that included BT's networks arm Openreach, CityFibre, KCOM and CommunityFibre – among others – in March.

The tone from BT has been conciliatory throughout this saga, but with this latest update there appears to be a subtle shift, with BT calling on others to do their share of the heavy lifting.

This includes local authorities and telecare providers. BT said in January it led the formation of the Telecare Action Board (TAB), bringing together around 30 organisations from government, telecoms, telecare, regulatory stakeholders, industry groups and local authorities so they can offer coordinated, orderly support to customers with additional needs before they make the switch.

However, BT on Monday pointed out that so far, only a quarter of local authorities and telecare providers have disclosed which phone lines have telecare devices on them. It urged everyone involved to get a move on.

BT's chief security and networks officer, Howard Watson, said "the urgency for switching customers onto digital services grows by the day because the 40-year-old analogue landline technology is increasingly fragile. Managing customer migrations from analogue to digital as quickly and smoothly as possible, while making the necessary provisions for those customers with additional needs, including telecare users, is critically important.

"Our priority remains doing this safely and the work we're doing with our peers, local authorities, telecare providers and key government organisations is key. But more needs to be done and we need all local authorities and telecare providers to share with us the phone lines where they know there's a telecare user."

Going forward, BT plans from this summer to ramp-up involuntary migrations for customers who don't identify as vulnerable or have additional needs, in areas where local authorities and telecare providers have established data-sharing agreements.

From next spring, BT will begin contacting customers who identify as vulnerable or with additional needs about the switch in areas where data sharing agreements with local authorities or telecare companies are in place, and in-home support for telecare users is available. All these customers will be contacted four weeks in advance of the migration, to ensure they are ready.

BT said engineering appointments will be made with individual customers ahead of the switch, and additional support will be provided on the day. Vulnerable customers can also nominate a friend or family member to handle all the admin.

On the day of the switch, engineers will test to make sure telecare devices are working properly before leaving the customer's property. If it doesn't work, then the customer will be switched back to an analogue line.

After a bumpy start, BT is pulling out all the stops to ensure this migration is as painless as possible, and judging by some of its remarks, it's time for others to step up as well.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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