Is this the end of the landline? BT announces major change for home telephones as it starts to swap millions of customers from analogue to a digital broadband service – ten years after radio and TV went the same way. Is YOUR area affected?

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A digital revolution of BT’s home phone network has today triggered fears millions of elderly and vulnerable people in Britain could be cut off from the world and left at risk. 

The telecoms giant today confirmed the next phase of its rollout of Digital Voice, its new home phone service to replace existing analogue landlines, with the scheme coming to the North West and London.  

The move is part of an industry-wide shift away from analogue to digital landlines, meaning calls are made over the internet via a broadband line. 

From 2025, all households and businesses will need the internet to make calls under a major digital shake-up – meaning millions of customers will be pushed online for the first time or forced to rely on a mobile phone instead.

But the controversial shift has struck fear in the hearts of the elderly and those in rural areas who worry they might not be able to make 999 emergency calls, with charities warning landlines remain ‘a lifeline’ for many older users who do not have mobile phones and may live in remote areas.

Author Polly James led the backlash today, writing on social media: ‘What happens to vulnerable people who rely on landlines to call for help in an emergency? Broadband does crash occasionally and not all elderly people are confident with mobile phones.’

Industry insiders had previously compared the move to the switch to digital TV in 2012, when broadcasters stopped transmitting traditional analogue signals to household rooftop or indoor aerials.

This is when the change to traditional copper landlines will be rolling out across the UK

This is when the change to traditional copper landlines will be rolling out across the UK

BT has announced the next phase of its Digital Voice switchover - which will see the old copper network scrapped in favour of broadband phone calls

BT has announced the next phase of its Digital Voice switchover – which will see the old copper network scrapped in favour of broadband phone calls

BT memorably used Maureen Lipman as 'Beattie' (pictured) to promote landline services in the 1980s

BT memorably used Maureen Lipman as ‘Beattie’ (pictured) to promote landline services in the 1980s

Pensioner groups previously warned the move would leave millions of vulnerable people at risk and isolated if the system goes into temporary meltdown. 

Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, previously told The Mail on Sunday: ‘What on earth was BT thinking when it decided to bring in such a huge change without properly consulting those who rely on traditional home phone lines the most?’

BT’s digital changeover sees the traditional handset replaced by a new ‘digital’ phone (powered by electricity) that relies upon the internet for calls to be made.

READ MORE: How does YOUR town stack up for broadband? Report reveals the UK regions with the slowest internet speeds – and it’s bad news for people living in Woking, Enfield and Gosport 

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If there is a power cut, this digital phone line will no longer work – and a potential lifeline for elderly people will be suddenly lost. Those needing to make an emergency ‘999’ call or raise an alarm via a health pendant could be left stranded – and unable to call anyone to ask for life-saving support. 

Despite further rollouts in the months ahead, BT says it is not forcing people with healthcare pendants, those without internet connections, those without mobiles or those with additional needs into making the switch yet.

But it has begun enrolling over-70s in the scheme, after previously granting them an exemption – but only if they live in built-up areas with good broadband and don’t use landlines often.

The move is part of an industry-wide shift away from the copper network to digital landlines, where phone calls will be made using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology – the same technology that powers phone calls on apps such as Skype and Zoom. 

Janet Brown, 87, a former teacher from Stratford-upon-Avon, has dementia and lives alone. She switched to Digital Voice in February but has been plagued by problems, and is regularly cur off from her phone. 

Speaking about the nightmare, her daughter Maggie Collard said the changeover had left her mother distressed, confused and worsened her dementia symptoms. 

‘The longest the phone has continuously worked has been 11 days,’ Maggie told The Mirror. ‘During the past six months, my mother’s dementia has become worse – she’s had new symptoms such as hallucinating myself and my sister being there but she’s unable to speak to us, which is such a metaphor for not being able to communicate. 

It’s an issue that plagues many frustrated Britons, and now a new report has revealed the UK areas with the fastest and slowest broadband

 ‘We believe her dementia has escalated a direct result of not being confident that she can pick up the phone for support. There’s been a couple of occasions where she hasn’t been able to contact us and she’s left the house and wandered around very confused.’

A Change.org petition against the upgrade has accumulated nearly 120,000 signatures.

Asani Andrews, its author, claims the forced upgrade will only confuse older people who are used to the ease of picking up a telephone.

They wrote: ‘For many seniors, the simplicity of picking up a phone and dialing a number provides a sense of familiarity and security. 

‘However, the shift to VoIP may require them to learn new devices, applications, and processes, leading to potential feelings of confusion and isolation.’

It comes a decade after analogue TV signals were switched off in the UK – known as the digital switch-over – and amid dwindling support for analogue radio frequencies ahead of an expected permanent switch to digital radio in the next 10 years. 

Q&A: WHAT IS THE SWITCHOVER AND WILL IT AFFECT ME? 

Will I need a fast connection?

Internet speeds of just one megabit per second (Mbps) should be enough for a good digital phone service. And every UK household has the right to demand a download speed of at least 10 Mbps.

Will my bills rise?

Customers will have to pay for the internet to use their home phone. But experts have said providers are likely to offer cheap, basic deals similar to landline-only contracts. It is not known if customers with older phones will need to buy a new handset or if they will get one for free.

What if the internet goes down?

If the internet crashes or there is a power cut, digital phone lines will stop working. Those who are vulnerable or do not have a mobile phone should be offered a back-up such as a battery pack, emergency phone line or mobile phone so they can still call 999 in an emergency.

What do I need to do?

Nothing yet. Those on landline-only deals or without the internet will hear from their providers later on.

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BT insists it has been consulting with a ‘Digital Voice Advisory Group, made up of organisations such as Age UK, consumer rights group Which? and the charity Independent Age, to ensure that pensioners are not left behind.

But Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told MailOnline: ‘Home phones are a lifeline for older people who don’t use computers, don’t use a mobile, or live in a rural or coastal area with poor connectivity at the best of times.

‘As BT and other telecom providers move people from analogue to digital systems they need to provide clear communications about the changes, arrange an engineer visit to provide practical help where necessary, and make sure people have suitable back-ups in the case of power cuts.

‘We are pleased that BT are meeting regularly with the (advisory) group and are rolling out the change on a regional basis, as the group suggested, and are currently exempting some people, such as the great majority of over-70s, from the programme, unless they choose to opt in.

‘All older people will need to be included in the programme later on. We will be monitoring progress carefully as it is essential that no older person is left without a functioning phone as a result of the introduction of new technology.’

BT’s digital changeover sees the traditional handset replaced by a new ‘digital’ phone that relies upon the internet for calls to be made.

The upgrade is likely to impact other services that rely on the existing telephone network such as alarm systems, phones in lifts, payment terminals and red telephone boxes.

However, the network has a fatal flaw – in the event of a power cut, broadband routers lose power, and without internet access, VOIP calls cannot be made.

BT says it is countering this by giving free battery backup boxes with enough power to keep a broadband connection active to customers with additional needs, those who are vulnerable, and those without mobile signal.

Others can purchase the battery box separately, and BT says it will also produce ‘hybrid’ phones that can make calls on both landlines and mobile networks for customers who don’t use mobiles.

The programme is already well underway, with all new phone and broadband packages now coming with the digital landline rather than an analogue one – including those renewed under new contracts. 

BT said following the programme being rolled out in the North West and London this autumn, it would move to the West Midlands, the South East, Wales and East Anglia in Spring 2024.

The North East, Scotland and the South West would then be switched over in summer next year.

Customers in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, and Northern Ireland have already been contacted or are in the process of being switched over, with the switchover for the whole of the UK set to be complete by the end of 2025.

The telecoms giant also confirmed that initially, customers with a healthcare pendant, only use a landline, have no mobile signal or those who have disclosed any additional needs will not be proactively switched.

Lucy Baker, from BT, said: ‘Through the work with our Digital Voice Advisory Group and our regional engagement, we’ve held 40 events, placed local radio and newspaper ads and met over 4,000 customers in person.

‘We understand that any change can be unsettling, and we’re here to support our customers every step of the way. First-hand experience shows that once people have the facts and have spoken to one of our advisers, they feel confident to make the switch.

‘If we’ve not been in touch or visited your area yet, don’t worry. We’ll be in touch when it’s time to switch. For anyone who has any issues, questions or concerns, then I’d encourage them to get in touch and let us know.’




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