Switch-off of analogue PSTN

This article will record the progress of the planned switch-off of the analogue PSTN (public switched telephone network) by 2025, and its implications to all of our generation, as Openreach moves to implement a fully digital service. The issue was brought to the attention of the Cardiff u3a Computer Group by Jenny Sims, a group member, who has a number of roles including being Chair of the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) Digital Working party and an NPC Executive Member.

It’s an article that will change over the next few months and years, so please look back for updates and further information as we become aware of issues, problems and hopefully solutions.

What implications might this have for older people?

  • Digital services are not universally good across rural areas
  • There will need to be a solution to the issue of digital services requiring power – what happens if there’s a break in power supply, this has been highlighted recently after the storms brought down power lines in Scotland and NE England
  • Cell telephony doesn’t provide a 100% coverage as a backup to digital services

What implications might this have for people with certain disabilities?

  • It’s been reported to us that certain people with visual problems have been experiencing difficulties in the Salisbury pilot area with the withdrawal of the 1471 service, with call-back not working, and with needing to install a new phone number

A video showing the opportunities and issues for Telecare

Here’s a link to the Progress Openreach has reported by January 2022. Much of this is very technical, so some of the following information might be more readable.

Here’s a briefing from BT on the project; and an update on what’s happening in Wales forwarded to Jenny in her role sitting on the National Pensioners Convention. Which? have also published a briefing on the subject which I encourage you all to look at. 

Some additional references

Switchover from analogue to digital telephony: UK consumer and micro-business reactions

The UK’s PSTN network will switch off in 2025 – BT Business

Internet revamp for the humble landline – BBC News

OpenReach PSTN Switchover – a technical presentation

Jenny has also written the article below, which will hopefully appear in the latest Cardiff u3a magazine …

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Ring, ring: Ready for the big ‘phone switchover?

Only three years until 2025 when all telephone providers will do the big “switchover” moving landline customers from the country’s traditional telephone network to digital technologies and analogue services are finally shut down. 

Though BT published a timescale back in 2019, many older people’s organisations have expressed concern that the public have not been given enough information about the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) moving to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), what it really means and how it could adversely affect older and vulnerable people.

Among them is the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), which represents 1.5 million members in Wales, England and Northern Ireland. 

Among the big questions is what happens if there’s a break in power supplies and people need to access emergency services – because the new system will run off broadband – and handsets will have to be plugged into an electricity socket.

Providers say solutions will be found – which will include the provision of emergency battery-powered backups for phones and routers.

This scenario became a reality last November when Storm Arwen hit the UK, causing widespread power outages and left 9,000 homes without power for more than a week.

Jan Shortt, NPC General Secretary did interviews with Talk Radio and other stations, and heard from affected listeners.

She said: “They raised the issue of not being able to charge mobile phones and other devices and therefore not able to summon help. It is clear that the majority of the population had not heard of the digital switch.”

In January Ofcom held an online public meeting to give an update on the “switchover” rollout throughout the UK and provide an opportunity to ask questions.

Jeff Richards, an NPC Wales executive member and a retired Swansea BT engineer, attended. He said: “Unfortunately they did not answer any questions that I raised regarding vulnerable customers nor anything on power supply. I felt that my questions were merely swatted away.”

BT have agreed to meet the NPC to address their concerns – which include, who will pay for the battery packs (some around £160) – the customer or provider?

Virgin Media has already promised that vulnerable customers with “accessibility needs or don’t have a mobile phone” will be given an emergency backup line at no extra cost.

Unsurprisingly, customers in various areas have reported teething problems as the system is being rolled out. For example, people in the Salisbury pilot area with visual problems have experienced difficulties with the withdrawal of the 1471 service and the need to get new phone numbers. 

Hopefully, in the three years left of the rollout, teething problems will have been sorted. But be prepared: only an estimated 1.5million out of 29million landlines have so far been converted – and one day those old phones will stop ringing!

For further information:

Jenny Sims is a Cardiff U3A Computer Group Member, Chair, NPC’s Digital Working Party and an NPC Wales Executive Member

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