Moving landline phones to digital technology: what you need to know

Published: 7 February 2024
Last updated: 7 February 2024

The technology that we currently use to make landline phone calls is being upgraded over the next few years. Here's what this means for you as a customer.

The infrastructure used to deliver landline calls is old and needs to be replaced

Landline phone calls have traditionally been delivered over a network known as the public switched telephone network (PSTN). This network is old, and becoming harder and more expensive to maintain, so it needs to be replaced.

Replacing the PSTN now will ensure that we continue to have reliable home phone services available.

This is not happening only in the UK. These changes are taking place all over the world, with many countries having now completed them.

BT has taken the decision to retire its PSTN by January 2027 and this means other providers that use BT’s network must follow the same timescale. Other companies with their own networks such as Virgin Media plan follow a similar timescale.

In addition, telecoms providers are also investing in new systems and networks – for example, by upgrading old copper-based broadband lines to full-fibre. They will need to switch customers away from the old PSTN at the same time as upgrading their technology.

This means that in the future, landline calls will be delivered over digital technology, called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). You might also see this referred to as ‘digital phone’ or ‘digital voice’.

Customers who want to keep a landline phone will need to move to a VoIP service

These changes have already started, but you don’t need to do anything until your provider contacts you to tell you your service is changing. Alternatively, if you want to move to a VoIP service now, you can do so by upgrading to a new phone and broadband package.

Once you have moved to a VoIP service, your landline phone will work in much the same way as it always has. However, as we explain below, there will be some differences.

Making phone calls in a power cut

Unlike some traditional corded analogue phones, a digital phone will only work in a power cut if it has a battery back-up.

If you are dependent on your landline phone – for example, if you don’t have a mobile phone or don’t have mobile signal at your home – your provider must offer you a solution to make sure you can contact the emergency services when a power cut occurs. For example, a mobile phone (if you have signal), or a battery back-up unit for your landline phone.

This solution should be provided free of charge to people who are dependent on their landline. If you are not eligible for a free resilience solution, you may be able to purchase one from your provider or another retailer – talk to your provider about options.

Your provider should arrange to supply the equipment needed to keep your main telephone connected

If you need any new equipment to make your main telephone work – for example, a new router, new telephone handset or if you need a new broadband service installed, your provider will arrange this.

Make sure your provider knows about your needs and circumstances

When the time comes for your landline phone to be upgraded, you should talk to your provider about your circumstances and how the service will work for you. For example, if you need extra help to change your service over, if you are dependent on your landline phone to make calls in a power cut, or if you use equipment connected to your phone line such as a telecare or burglar alarm.

You may need to change your care alarm, security alarm or fax machine

Certain devices people use at home, such as care alarms, security alarms and fax machines may also be connected you your landline. If you have a device like this, it might need to be replaced or reconfigured to continue working once you move to a VoIP service.

When you migrate to a VoIP service, your provider should tell you what you need to do if you have one of these devices. This will include informing your alarm provider so they can make the necessary changes or tell you if your alarm will work with your new VoIP service.

If you are buying a new alarm or device, you should ask the manufacturer if it is compatible with VoIP services.

Before you change to a digital landline, let your provider know if:

  • you have a care alarm, health pendant or security alarm that uses the telephone line;
  • you don’t own a mobile phone, or you don't have enough signal at home to call the emergency services in a power cut; or
  • you have a disability or any other needs that mean you need extra help with the installation.

Your VoIP service will be provided over a broadband connection

If you already have a broadband connection, for example to connect to the Internet, then the VoIP service will use this.

If you don’t have a broadband connection, your provider will supply one specifically to support the VoIP service, but you shouldn’t pay extra for your VoIP service if you don’t take up a broadband service.

Questions to ask your provider

Before you switch to a digital landline

  • What do I need to do for my new landline to work as soon as possible?
  • Will my new landline work in a power cut?
  • What can you provide if I only have my landline to call emergency services during a power cut?
  • How do I check whether other devices (like care alarms) that use my telephone line will be compatible?
  • Will my current handset work on the new system, or do you need to send me a new handset or some other equipment?

Before you change your broadband to full-fibre broadband (also known as 'fibre-to-the-premises' or 'fibre-to-the-home')

  • Will I need an engineer visit? If so, what should I do to prepare for their visit?
  • Will my landline voice service be affected by the change to my broadband service?
  • Do I need any new equipment, such as a router? Will this be provided?

This change will affect small businesses too

Just like residential customers, small businesses that want to continue using their landlines will eventually have to move to VoIP services.

You might also have equipment such as card payment machines, alarms, and monitoring equipment connected to your landline that might not work once you have migrated to a VoIP service.

Speak to your landline provider to establish what other equipment your business uses that relies on the PSTN. You should also speak to the current supplier of this equipment for advice on options for replacing or reconfiguring it.

For any other queries, including if you have a more complex set-up at your business, please speak to your landline provider for specific advice.

More information

If you have any questions about the move to VoIP, contact your provider. You can also find more information online:

  • Trade association techUK has explained what the digital phone switchover means for residential and business customers, and for suppliers of services or devices that use a phone line.
  • Openreach has published factsheets for businesses who use phone lines to deliver services to help them understand how the move to VoIP services will affect them.

The decision to close the PSTN has been made by industry, not Ofcom or the UK Government. Our aim is to make sure customers don’t face undue disruption or harm from the changes. For example, we have rules to protect customers in power cuts, and to require phone companies to provide access to emergency calls at all times. We have published a detailed policy statement (PDF, 647.9 KB) setting out our approach to this.

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