INSIGHT SERVICE: ANALOGUE TELEPHONY SWITCHOVER MAY 2021 UPDATE
Most telephone lines are delivered to homes using analogue technology in the UK. These are commonly known as PSTN or Public Switched Telephone Network.
Following a 2017 announcement, all of the main telecommunication firms such as BT, Sky and Virgin are now in the process of fully transitioning telephony networks from analogue to digital. This switchover will improve connectivity and lower long-term costs.
From a telecare standpoint, telecare service providers are working hard to ensure that those vital services which aid the daily lives of society’s most vulnerable are protected, and will continue to operate reliably during the switchover.
This month’s Insight Service raises awareness of the move to digital telephony, the impact this switchover will have on telecare services, the most recent stop-sell exchanges released by Openreach and answers frequently asked questions regarding the switchover.
Our Business Relationship Manager, David Brown explains the impact that the analogue telephony switchover and the recent stop-sell exchanges announced by Openreach will have on telecare service providers and telecare service users in this short video.
Move to Digital Telephony
Over 2 million UK businesses will be affected by BT’s Openreach user-led plans to permanently switch off support for all analogue communications networks by 2025, with other operators planning to switch off even sooner. This is in addition to Openreach no longer selling copper-based products across 118 exchange areas by 2021.
Telecommunications providers are upgrading legacy PSTN lines with digital phone lines that use Voice over IP (VoIP) technology. This means that homes have a single digital connection providing both internet and voice services.
Swapping high capacity telephone trunks (usually ISDN30) for IP equivalents (usually SIP) is a fairly simple change. However, the modern communication standards used by IP phone lines and their reliance on mains power means that they cannot always support these kinds of legacy applications, therefore a like-for-like replacement may not always be possible.
Identifying where all these existing telephony services are being delivered and what they are being used for can also be a challenge. Engineers regularly see telephone services that were installed decades ago, with limited information available on who is using them, but with customers operating business as usual regardless. IP telephone lines require a data network connection – this can be an issue for telephone services in locations with no data cabling, or where the service must operate during power outages. Ultimately, organisations need to consider whether there is time and budget available to address cabling issues and what impact a potential reliance on data networks may have on support arrangements.
Although a one-size fits all approach is not possible, there are solutions available for most applications. In addition, the switch off provides a perfect opportunity for organisations to review their telephony services and delivery arrangements.
The Impact on Telecare Services
Currently in the home, the user’s telephone, telecare equipment and internet router connect to an analogue phone line. This analogue phone line connects the user’s home to the local telephone exchange. Similar analogue lines, or ISDN, connect the Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) to its local exchange. Calls between exchanges are carried across the telecommunications provider’s core network.
The impact of moving to digital telephone lines may affect how telephone lines are set up in users’ homes. As migration to digital will be user-led, telecare service providers are unlikely to see all of their users in a specific geographical area move to digital. Instead, migrations are likely to be scattered over a larger area as defined by the focus of telecommunications companies’ marketing efforts. This approach will be used until the majority of a telecommunications company’s users in an area have been migrated to digital services. At this point it is likely that remaining analogue customers in that area will have no choice but to move to a digital service in order that the telecommunications provider’s analogue equipment can be decommissioned.
The move to digital phone lines will also have an impact on Alarm Receiving Centres (ARC). ARCs are 24-hour hubs which prioritises the user’s personal safety by monitoring services and providing an emergency response if necessary. Currently, ARCs connect to the phone network using either multiple phone lines or ISDN services. Going forward, these will need to be upgraded to VoIP phone lines which cannot be completed until all users have moved to digital telecare. Telecare service providers will need to contact their existing ARC supplier to determine the extent and costs of this upgrade
Key Analogue to Digital Switchover Milestones
The following information details the area and dates which Openreach have announced that they will no longer offer the sale of analogue telephone services in Scotland. It is important to note that these dates relate to the installation of new analogue telephone lines and existing analogue phone lines in these exchange areas will continue to operate after the stop-sell date. Digital Telecare for Scottish Local Government will continue to issue further updates to this list as more exchange areas are announced. A more detailed breakdown of the stop-sell exchange dates can be found in our Analogue Telephony Switchover Update May 2021 which can be accessed using the link below.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What does this announcement mean for telecare users / providers?
The process of moving users to digital telephone lines has started in these exchange areas. Existing telecare services do not operate reliably if they are connected to a digital phone line. This is because:
Telecare providers need to have a digital telecare solution in place to ensure that users can be provided with a reliable telecare service once they have been migrated to a digital telephone service.
2. How do I know if a telecare user is connected to one of the affected exchanges?
3. When will analogue telephone services in these exchange areas stop working?
The announcement for these exchanges sets a ‘stop sell’ date after which it will no longer be possible to have a new analogue line installed. Existing analogue telephone lines will continue to work after this date, however, there will come a point where these existing lines will need to be migrated to a digital equivalent. There is currently no set date when this will happen in these exchange areas.
These exchanges have been chosen because Openreach believes that at least 75% of premises in these areas will have access to digital telephone services by the stop sell date. Existing analogue telephone users in these exchange areas will be offered a range of telephone and Internet services that use these digital services.
This customer-led voluntary migration to digital telephone services will be used until a point where a mandatory migration of late adopters will be used. This mandatory migration will start no later than 2024, however it may start earlier if a large proportion of users in an exchange area migrate to digital products sooner (meaning it becomes uneconomic to maintain the analogue service).
4. Does this announcement only impact BT customers?
No. This will impact customers of most telephone and Internet providers. Openreach provides wholesale voice and data services to a large proportion of telephone companies. This means that users who obtain telephone services from BT, Sky, Talktalk, Plusnet, and the Post Office, amongst others, are likely to be impacted.
Virgin Media customers will not be impacted by this announcement; however, Virgin Media is completing its own digital phone lines programme and so its customers will also be moved to new services over a timeframe similar to Openreach’s. More information on these timescales will be provided once available. Customers already using digital telephone services will be unaffected by this announcement.
5.Why are so many of these exchangers in rural/ remote areas?
Openreach can only set stop sell dates for analogue services where it is confident that suitable digital alternatives exist. Openreach believes that exchanges where a stop sell date has been set will all have digital services available to at least 75% of premises by the stop sell date. Some exchanges on the list are already at or above this level. This 75% threshold will be met either due to the commercial rollout of broadband services, or because of the Scottish Government programme, including R100. R100 provides broadband services in areas that the commercial rollout will not reach, predominantly rural and remote areas. This means that some of these rural / remote exchanges may meet the availability threshold before some more urban areas.
6. Will more exchange stop-sell dates be announced?
Yes. Openreach will continue to add exchanges to its stop sell list over the coming months and years. Digital Telecare for Scottish Local Government will monitor these announcements and keep telecare service providers up to date on the latest position.
7.What happens if a user has issues with their telecare service following a migration to digital telephone line?
Telecare service providers should contact Digital Telecare for Scottish Local Government. The Digital Telecare programme can potentially provide advice on how to resolve any issues experienced. Digital Telecare for Scottish Local Government has also launched a Monthly Digital Telecare Migration Survey to allow telecare service providers to log any migration issues that have arisen. The data from this survey is then escalated to Ofcom, allowing any issues or questions relating to telecom companies’ plans or performance to be raised. If your organisation does not currently fill in the monthly migration survey, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
What materials are available to support telecare service providers?
This document provides further information on the analogue telephony replacement process using detail that is now starting to be released by Openreach (part of the BT group).
This document provides an overview of some analogue telecare issues that have been commonly seen and some workarounds that have been implemented to improve service.
This telephone network awareness document details an overview of the plans the Telecommunications Industry have for their digital phone line upgrade process and the impact this will have on telecare services.
Analogue Telecare in a Digital World will allow the reader to understand how current analogue telecare solutions will be impacted by the rollout of digital telephone lines.
*Please note that you must be logged in to the Digital Telecare Playbook for the document links to work.