Upgrading landlines to digital technology – what you need to know

25 August 2021

The technology that we currently use to make landline phone calls is due to be upgraded over the next few years. But what does this mean for you as a landline customer?

Landline phone calls have traditionally been delivered over the old telephone network – this is known as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN).

BT has taken the decision to retire the PSTN by December 2025 and other providers plan to follow a broadly similar timescale. This means that in future, landline calls will be delivered over digital technology called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which uses a broadband connection.

Why is it happening?

The equipment used in the PSTN was developed and installed in the UK in the 1980s, and is becoming harder and more expensive to maintain. At the same time, telecoms providers are investing in new systems and networks such as full-fibre technology.

So, broadband and phone companies have decided to switch off the old network and deliver landline calls over new digital technology to make sure that our phone services continue into the future.

When is it happening?

Some of this migration to VoIP is already happening for some customers, such as people who have upgraded their home phone and broadband package, or who have moved house. Your landline provider will contact you to let you know when the process to migrate from your old landline to your new telephone service will apply to you.

What do I need to do?

You don’t need to do anything until your provider tells you your telephone service is changing, or until you decide to change your telephone service.

Once a home phone service is moved from PSTN to VoIP, the phone will generally work in the same way as it always has, but it will need to be plugged into a broadband router instead of into the phone socket on your wall. If you need any new equipment - for example, a new router – or if you need a new broadband service installed, your provider should arrange this. It’s important you talk to your provider about how the service will work for you.

This change will affect other devices that rely on a phone line, such as some fire and burglar alarm systems and telecare devices. So, you should mention those devices to your provider and check if these need to be replaced or reconfigured to continue working.

Do I have to have broadband to get the new landline service?

Once the PSTN is switched off, customers who wish to continue having a landline phone, and do not already have broadband, will generally need to have a suitable connection – this is the case even if they don’t use a broadband service.  We expect that providers will have a range of options for people in this situation, so customers should not be forced to take out a high-speed broadband package if they do not want to.

Will VoIP phones work in a power cut?

Unlike traditional phones, a phone connected to a broadband router will not work in a power cut, as the router gets its power from the mains.

If you rely on your landline - for example, you don’t have a mobile phone, you’re unable to use a mobile phone  or you don’t have mobile signal inside your home - your provider must make sure you are able to contact the emergency services during a power cut. This could be in the form of battery back-up so your landline will continue to work, or giving you a basic mobile phone to use in this situation.

How can I find out more?

If you have any queries or concerns about the migration to VoIP technology, contact your landline or broadband provider first of all. More information is also available at the Future of Voice website. We will also publish more information on this subject shortly.