At the end of 2025, Openreach, the infrastructure division of BT, will be switching off its copper network. This means that the UK’s analogue network – the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) will no longer be available. Dan Whittington, Head of Utilities at international MEP consultancy Whitecode, considers how the digital upgrade will impact businesses.
The strict December 2025 deadline to switch off the nation’s copper network is backed by UK government as it falls in line with their target to give at least 85 per cent of UK premises access to gigabit-broadband by this time also. This target can only be achieved by replacing the existing copper network with an Ultrafast Full Fibre digital network. According to Recovar, a provider of IT and Telecoms asset recovery software, more than 16 million premises and homes will need to move to alternative technologies over the next four years. However, research by Telecoms specialists, Spitfire, shows that nearly half of businesses (46 per cent) had no idea that their analogue phone and ISDN services were even going to be switched off!
So why the switch off? According to Uswitch the number of households with a landline is in terminal decline alongside the decrease in the demand for legacy network platforms. Maintaining a copper network, that in part heralds from the Victoria era, is becoming prohibitively expensive and running an analogue and digital network simultaneously is no longer economically viable. The switch off will result in faster broadband and a higher quality of service resulting in improved collaboration and better information sharing particularly for employees who are working remotely. Fortunately, legacy equipment can be reused which will help support the circular economy.
The ‘switch off’ of the analogue phone network, which is often appointed alongside broadband services, will affect everyone who has a copper-based landline they’d like to keep using. All connections will need to be Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) or Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA) which is replacing Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). All traditional voice services will be delivered using a digital voice service know as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). If you have used Zoom or Microsoft Teams, then you have already used VoIP!Copper phone lines form the foundation of the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure, so the impact of the switch off is far reaching, all businesses within the energy industry use the telephone network in some way to measure and manage its generation, transmission, or distribution.
The water industry uses the network to control the UK’s water supply, monitoring and managing water levels and supplies. These changes will also affect legacy alarm systems that rely on PSTN to dial out to Alarm Reporting Centres (ARCs). This includes intruder, emergency phones in lifts and fire alarms. It will also impact CCTV systems that use ISDN services. Payment terminals in shops, cash machines, traffic lights, and even the light signals on the London Underground will be impacted by the switch off.
One of the benefits of the copper network was that it provided back-up power to these services, meaning that they would work even in the event of a power cut. However, once the network is switched off, unless batteries or alternative backup power sources are provided, these services will no longer be able to run during a power cut. This could potentially put vulnerable people and Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) at risk. It is therefore essential to identify anything within a business or home that would be affected by the copper switch off. Once these have been identified, your service providers will then be able to take the necessary steps.
Openreach is taking a region-by-region approach to the shut off and has advised that once 75% of the homes and businesses connected to a particular exchange area is served by fibre, it will no longer sell copper-based services in that area. This applies to new and existing customers, whether they are switching or upgrading. For new sites, from the 15th of November 2021, Openreach no longer offer additional copper for the sole purpose of service lines, this is to ensure that it only builds one infrastructure, which is a Ultrafast Full Fibre network.
In all cases, it is recommended by Openreach that businesses speak to their communications providers to understand the best course of action to take, especially as some communications providers may decide they wish to impose this changeover even sooner than the 2025 shut off date.
Openreach has created fact sheets to specifically provide guidance to the alarm, energy, lift, telecare and water industries. Visit https://www.openreach.com/upgrading-the-UK-to-digital-phone-lines/industry for additional information.