Why Is The Switchover Delayed Until 2027?

BT has decided to postpone the switch-off of traditional copper landlines across the UK until 2027. This delay comes after discovering issues with telecare alarms, which are crucial for 1.8 million vulnerable individuals who rely on these emergency devices. Initially planned for the end of next year, the switch to digital services is now extended to ensure the safety and reliability of these alarms.

Understanding the Shift from Copper to Digital Landlines

BT’s move to delay the switch-off of copper landlines is a response to significant safety concerns. The transition involves moving from traditional phone lines to a broadband-powered system known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), similar to services like WhatsApp or Skype. This change aims to offer clearer call quality and modern features but has encountered problems, especially affecting personal safety alarms used by vulnerable people.

Howard Watson, BT’s chief security and network’s officer, explained the need to extend the date of the switch-off:

“The urgency for switching customers onto digital services grows by the day because the 40-year-old analogue landline technology is increasingly fragile. Managing customer migrations from analogue to digital as quickly and smoothly as possible, while making the necessary provisions for those customers with additional needs, including telecare users, is critically important.

“Our priority remains doing this safely and the work we’re doing with our peers, local authorities, telecare providers and key government organizations is key. But more needs to be done and we need all local authorities and telecare providers to share with us the phone lines where they know there’s a telecare user.”

The Importance of Telecare Alarms

Telecare alarms, often worn on a lanyard or bracelet, are life-saving devices that connect users to emergency services at the touch of a button. The switch to digital phone lines has led to compatibility issues, causing some alarms to fail. This prompted the government to intervene, ensuring that BT and other telecom providers take necessary measures to protect those who depend on these alarms.

Steps Taken to Address the Issues

BT and other telecom providers have committed to developing new landline technology to address these compatibility issues. Vulnerable customers and those with additional needs, including telecare users, will not be forced to switch to digital services before 2027. This gives telecom companies time to refine the technology and ensure a smooth and safe transition.

Revised Timeline for the Landline Switch

BT has outlined a revised schedule for the landline switch:

April 2024: BT resumed non-voluntary migrations for customers who haven’t used their landline in the past year and do not rely on telecare alarms.

Summer 2024: BT plans to increase migrations in areas with data-sharing agreements with local authorities and telecare providers.

Spring 2025: BT will begin contacting vulnerable customers and those with additional needs to prepare for the switch, ensuring all necessary support and equipment are in place.

Impacts and Benefits of the Digital Switch

The transition to digital landlines is expected to provide numerous benefits, including better call quality and enhanced protection from fraud and spam calls. However, the process has faced challenges, notably for the elderly and those using telecare alarms. BT assures that they are working diligently with various stakeholders to address these issues and make the transition as seamless as possible.

Customers should also seek professional help to ensure their alarms are compatible with new digital services, as emphasised by Telecoms Expert Ernest Doku:

“This move to digital broadband connected lines will deliver speeds as high as 10 times faster than current technologies — but it’s entirely apparent that the roll-out shouldn’t be at the expense of the needs of vulnerable customers.

“Personal care alarm systems and other devices connected to landlines need to be considered during the shift to digital. Providers have a responsibility to look after their customers, and must either provide them with time to migrate to other solutions or offer alternative options to allow them access to emergency services directly.

“Customers may also be able to explore other full fibre providers in their area, though should seek professional help to ensure that any personal care alarm systems which are linked to their landline are compatible with their new supplier if they change provider. This is a complex UK-wide engineering project with technical challenges to overcome, and BT’s revisions act as a strong reminder that the landline is used for more than just calls, and access to it mustn’t be overlooked.”

What to Expect Moving Forward

For customers already using full-fibre internet, there will be minimal changes as “Digital Voice” has been the standard. However, BT has suspended sales of traditional landlines to new customers since September 2023. Despite the benefits of digital landlines, such as clearer calls and better fraud protection, it’s crucial to ensure that vulnerable individuals are not left behind during this transition.

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