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Over the next few years, landline telephone services in the UK will switch to a fully digital network. This means phone calls will be carried over the internet.

Phone companies intend to withdraw the existing analogue telephone system, called the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), by 2025. The PSTN is an aging network that is becoming harder and more expensive to maintain. Industry stakeholders have highlighted benefits of the switch to digital, such as improved call quality.

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 and Virgin Media). BT’s new home phone service for digital calls is called Digital Voice.

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom expects that most customers will see minimal disruption. Some customers may need more support from their phone service provider. Ofcom advises customers to get in touch with their provider if they:

  • Have other devices that rely on the PSTN, such as telecare and security alarms.
  • Would be unable to contact the emergency services if they lost landline services in the event of a power cut, for example because they do not have a mobile phone or reliable mobile signal.
  • Have a disability or other needs that mean they require help with installation.

Concerns have been raised about the digital switchover following lengthy power cuts caused by storms in winter 2021/22. Unlike traditional landlines, digital phone lines will not work in a power cut 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.

Other devices that rely on the PSTN will also be affected by the switchover. This may affect vulnerable customers such as those using telecare devices such as fall alarms. The Government says it is working with Ofcom to ensure that consumers and affected sectors are protected and prepared for the switch.

In December 2023 the government announced that communications providers had 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

DCMS, UK transition from analogue to digital landlines, 6 January 2023

Ofcom, Moving landline phones to digital technology: what you need to know, 11 July 2022

Future of Voice (a telecoms industry website established to inform businesses and consumers about the switch to digital services)

Which?, Digital Voice and the landline phone switch-off: what it means for you

Age UK, Changes to landline telephones

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).


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