Last year, BT began the major roll-out of Digital Voice – a new home phone service that will mean calls are made over the broadband network, rather than the 40-year-old analogue network.
Instead of plugging a home phone into a wall-mounted phone socket that people have done for decades, customers will simply connect their handset to their broadband router.
The UK is following in the footsteps of countries – including Australia, New Zealand and Sweden – that have already started this technological shift.
Chris Howe, customer director for BT, EE and Plusnet, said: “This upgrade is essential. By 2025, the analogue phone network will be switching off and just as the television went from analogue to digital, now it’s the turn of our phone lines .
“Home phone providers like us now need to move our customers to more modern voice services. This is a once-in-a-generation upgrade to ensure everyone stays connected now and into the future with a more resilient, sustainable and energy-efficient network .”
Why is this switch necessary?
Chris continued: “The analogue phone lines are based on an old technology that is breaking down too often and is unreliable. That is why it is going to be switched off in 2025.
“All phone companies will need to make this switch and at BT, we have 10 million customers to upgrade by this time.
“Not only are the existing analogue lines up to 40 years old but they use a lot of energy and are very inefficient. Moving to Digital Voice is one of the many things we can do to reduce the country’s energy consumption.
“We are also making a huge shift from copper-based networks to full fiber, so eventually it will be unsustainable and too costly to run both networks side by side.
“This new full fiber network will be the backbone for our digital lives and it is a service fit for the future. It will change the way we watch TV, connect our homes and businesses, and help the UK maintain its position as one of the most advanced digital economies on the planet.
“This upgrade has to happen and, eventually, all customers will be part of this change.”
What are the benefits of Digital Voice?
Chris added: “Once customers make the switch to Digital Voice, they will notice many long-term benefits. Instantly, you’ll notice the crystal clear audio quality; and over time, you’ll notice spam calls almost completely stop as a result.” of a new spam blocker.
“The roll-out of the Digital Voice service will also enable BT to offer new services in the future, such as voice calling via Alexa devices and video calls.”
How will BT ensure that the upgrade is a success?
Chris explained: “We recently announced that BT will temporarily be pausing the switchover to Digital Voice for our customers who do not want to move to this new technology straight away.
“The exception to this is our customers who are already receiving full fiber broadband and who have a landline telephone service that runs over it.
“Our customers’ needs are at the heart of everything that we do and we are proud of the support that we provide to them.
“We understand that for many, particularly the vulnerable, the home phone is a lifeline. We want to be sure no one feels left behind in this necessary upgrade to our nation’s infrastructure.
“We are determined to get this right and have listened to our customers’ concerns. That is why we have announced this pause.
“We want to ensure our customers have the opportunity to understand the reasons for the change and to let people know that we are working on a range of solutions that will ensure their connectivity is as resilient as possible when they are switched over to Digital Voice.
“The recent disruption caused by storms Arwen and Eunice also negatively impacted a small number of our customers.
“While many cables were cut in these storms, including the older phone lines, as well as power lines – we know that for very rural and isolated customers, making calls – especially to their loved ones – would not have been possible with a broadband- only connection.
“We want to make sure that our customers’ connectivity is as resilient as possible before we continue with the roll-out so we will be working with energy providers on faster power restoration, and we are creating better backup solutions for customers.”
Supporting customers every step of the way
The move to Digital Voice will re-start once BT has the key products and solutions in place to provide customers with more resilient connectivity. These include:
- Hybrid phones that can switch to a mobile network and have an in-built, long-lasting battery
- The option of longer-lasting battery backup units for customers who want or need them
- Providing in-home ‘mobile landlines’ for people without broadband – free for vulnerable customers
- Addressing so-called mobile ‘not-spots’, with continued investment in the Shared Rural Network. BT has recently announced a further 1,500 locations that will get better coverage as a result
- Launching an awareness campaign so that customers better understand the need to switch
- Continuing to proactively engage the related industries, like healthcare pendants and burglar alarm providers, to ensure the most vulnerable customers continue to get the service they need
- Continuing to work on other things, including advances in scam-call shielding and fraud reduction tools that are increasingly important to landline users
BT’s promise to you
Chris concluded: “At BT, we appreciate that any change to the technology that you are used to can be daunting. We are here to help and will be with you every step of the way.
“For almost everyone, moving to Digital Voice is a simple and free transition with no home installation work required.
“Over 95 per cent of handsets in our customers’ homes are compatible with Digital Voice, so most won’t even need to buy new devices.
“We are working with providers of care pendants and alarm lines, as well as organizations who represent vulnerable people, to make sure we get the transition to Digital Voice right.
“We have already done lots of work to understand who our most vulnerable customers are in the transition to digital and have a digital services lab at Adastral Park near Ipswich for customers or suppliers to test their services.
“If you think you will have a problem with the transition or you think you are vulnerable, tell us. We will be with you every step of the way to make the transition as smooth as possible.”