Documents to download

Over the next few years, landline telephone services in the UK will switch to a fully digital network. The existing network, called the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), will be withdrawn. The PSTN is an aging network that is becoming harder and more expensive to maintain. Calls will be carried over the broadband network instead.

The withdrawal of the PSTN is industry-led. It is not the direct result of government policy. Decisions on migrating customers are made by the companies that operate and provide services on the network. For example, BT’s new home phone service for digital calls is called Digital Voice.

Phone companies intend to withdraw the PSTN by the end of January 2027. This is the date when the PSTN itself will be switched off, but individuals customers are already being ‘migrated’ off the PSTN. Ofcom, the UK telecoms regulator, estimated in its December 2023 Connected Nations report that less than half of landlines (41%, 9.7 million) are still on the PSTN. Ofcom expects that most customers will see minimal disruption from this process.

The industry had originally targeted a switch-off date of 31 December 2025. However, the migration of customers has been ‘paused’ twice in response to concerns raised about the impact on customers who rely on landlines or other devices that use the PSTN.

For example, unlike traditional landlines, digital phone lines will not work in a power cut at the customer’s property without a backup power source. Ofcom requires providers to take measures to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency services for at least an hour, including during a power cut. This could include, for example, a battery supply or mobile phone. BT paused its rollout of Digital Voice for over a year from March 2022, in part because lengthy power cuts caused by storms in winter 2021/22 brought this issue “into sharper focus”.

Devices that rely on the PSTN include some telecare devices such as fall alarms. The government revealed in December 2023 that it had asked the industry to pause the rollout again following reports of “serious incidents” involving telecare devices.

Phone providers subsequently signed up to a set of commitments to “protect vulnerable customers as phone lines are upgraded to a new digital network”. Under the PSTN Charter, providers agreed to, for example, not migrate users of telecare devices unless their device is compatible with digital landlines, and to provide battery back-up solutions that “go beyond” Ofcom’s minimum requirements.

Ofcom’s website provides more information for consumers on frequently asked questions about upgrading landlines to digital technology.

Further resources

Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, UK transition from analogue to digital landlines, 6 January 2023

Ofcom, Moving landline phones to digital technology: what you need to know, 7 February 2024

For general background information on consumers issues in the telecoms industry, see the House of Commons Library briefing, Mobile and broadband: affordability and consumer protection (November 2022).

Documents to download

Related posts