The UK telephone network that weaves throughout the country is going through a major technological change. This national network has been the backbone of our communications for over a century, linking our homes and businesses across every village, town and city, via local telephone exchanges and copper lines, but this is about to change.
The aim is that, by the end of 2025, all telephone services that currently use the copper network will be switched over to operate using VoIP technology – “Voice Over Internet Protocol”, to give it its full name. These digital “fibre” networks use fibre optic cables instead of copper wires to transmit your telephone calls and internet traffic far more efficiently, enabling additional services to operate. Although different parts of the country will switch over to the new telephone network at different times, in the end the whole of the old copper network will be switched off, and so you will have to ensure that you are ready for the new way of doing things.
‘Full fibre’ is also known on product terms as Full Fibre to the Premise (FTTP). This won’t necessarily be available immediately. Where FTTP is not ready, you will keep the analogue line coming into your premises, with fibre networks starting from the roadside cabinet. These products will be known as SoGEA or SoTAP. Over time, your analogue line will then be replaced to become FTTP. If your area already has FTTP, you will need to move to that when asked to.
This is not something that your provider is deciding to do by themselves – the telephone network across the whole country is being changed to the new internet-based system, and every household and business will have to adapt. This is essentially the telephone version of when analogue terrestrial TV switched over to digital terrestrial TV between 2007-12.
Equally, this is not a bold jump into the unknown – many homes and businesses have been using VoIP for their telephone calls for over 10 years now. We have simply reached a turning-point where we need to move away from the 140-year-old copper-based service and bring everyone on to a modern, internet-based network.
Although different parts of the country will switch over to the new telephone network at different times, in the end the whole of the old copper network will be switched off, and so you will have to ensure that you are ready for the new way of doing things.
‘Full fibre’ is also known on product terms as Full Fibre to the Premise (FTTP). This won’t necessarily be available immediately. Where FTTP is not ready, you will keep the analogue line coming into your premises, with fibre networks starting from the roadside cabinet. These products will be known as SoGEA or SoTAP. Over time your analogue line will then be replaced to become FTTP. If your area already has FTTP, you will need to move to that when asked to.
Whilst the fabric of how the telephone network operates might be changing, it does not mean the things you are used to, rely on and might even love about your telephone need to change.
For a start, your telephone number does not need to change. Friends, family and customers that already know your number can call you in the same way. And when they do, you will still be able to answer the call using a physical handset, just as you already do today.
Whilst telephone providers will be aiming to upgrade their services to match what you have today, as with all technological advancements, this will bring newer and improved services that are more flexible and better designed for today’s modern life. Businesses can particularly benefit from a wide range of improvements that will help them better meet the needs of their customers and integrate with their online and business software systems.
There will, however, be some choices for you to make. If all you want is for your existing service to work in much the same way as it does today, then you will need to tell this to your existing provide when they contact you regarding any change. It will still be worth seeing what different services they have to offer, but it is expected that the vast majority of providers will offer what is termed a “like-for-like” replacement.
Whatever you choose, some physical changes may be needed to keep you connected to the new network.
Firstly, if you do not already have one, you will need a certain type of telephone handset that can connect to this new network.
Secondly, it is possible that the switchover will require an engineer visit to move your existing copper connection to a fibre connection.
However, some providers will not require this and, depending on your situation, you may just have to simply plug your telephone into a different socket or your existing internet router. Ask your telephone service provider for more information on this.
A really important thing to be aware of is that your old connection to the network provided power to your telephone, making it possible to call 999 and reach emergency services even in the event of a power cut. It is not guaranteed you will have this power when you are moved over to a fibre connection and use the internet-based service. Unless specific equipment is provided to keep your VoIP service operating using a battery back-up, it should be assumed that you will lose the function of your telephone when there is a power cut. A mobile phone might make a suitable alternative but only if there is signal at your premises.
The elderly, infirm or anyone that relies on their telephone for emergency services must make their provider aware of this prior to switch over. Your provider should check this with you when they switch you over and they should provide a battery-backup solution if necessary to ensure you can continue to contact the emergency services.
For businesses, there might be some extra considerations due to alarm systems, credit card machines, faxes and even lifts that use telephone lines. In those cases, specific advice from suppliers may be required and suitable alternatives, usually selected using your internet connection.
The end of 2025 is the current goal for all of this to be completed by, but some areas may be ready sooner, and others later. There isn’t a single date that everyone will switch over and timings will depend on where you live and how your existing provider is managing the switchover.
Across the UK, providers have been working hard preparing for this and it is your existing provider who will be responsible for coordinating the switchover with you. Indeed you may have already been contacted about this plan. If you have any queries or concerns, we encourage you to speak to your existing provider early so that they can help you get ready for the change.