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BT pause Digital Voice plans, work on resilient rollout

Last year, we began our major rollout of Digital Voice – BT’s new home phone service that will mean calls are made over our new broadband network, rather than the old analogue network which is over 40 years old.

Put simply, instead of plugging a home phone into a wall-mounted phone socket that people have done for decades, customers will connect their handset to their broadband router.

Doing this will replace old analogue technology that is fast becoming obsolete with a new digital service that will provide crystal-clear calls, prevent the vast majority of scam calls and ultimately will be more efficient on electricity usage making it better for the environment.

It is, in short, a necessary upgrade to customers’ phones in their homes that will bring long term benefits and a service fit for the future.

However, we underestimated the disruptive impact this upgrade would have on some of our customers. With hindsight we went too early, before many customers – particularly those who rely more heavily on landlines – understood why this change is necessary and what they needed to do.

We also recognise we have more work to do on getting better back-up solutions in place for when things disrupt the service like storms and power cuts.

We got this part of our programme wrong and for that, we’re sorry.

The huge disruption caused by recent Storms Arwen and Eunice brought this into sharper focus, when people – including many of our customers in rural areas – needed to get in touch with loved ones during power outages. While many lines were cut in those storms, including the older phone lines, as well as power lines – we do recognise that for some customers, making calls would not have been possible with a broadband-only connection.

We have listened to our customers’ concerns and we have more work to do to improve the resilience of the network, working with energy providers on faster power restoration and providing better back-up solutions for customers.

Digitising the UK’s future is a national mission, and we’re determined to get it right.

So, we are pausing all further Digital Voice switch-overs for customers who don’t want to move to the new technology straight away. This will give us the opportunity to get better, more resilient back-up options in place for customers who need or want them. It will also mean we can ensure all of our customers are aware this change is coming – and why it is needed.

This will be a pause to part of the programme, we will aim to re-start once we have key solutions in place to provide our customers with more resilient connectivity. These include:

  • Hybrid phones that can switch to a mobile network and have an in-built, long-lasting battery.
  • The option of longer-lasting battery back-up units for customers who want or need them.
  • Providing in-home ‘mobile landlines’ for people without broadband.
  • Addressing so-called mobile ‘not-spots’, with continued investment in the Shared Rural Network. We’ve recently announced a further 1,500 locations that will get better coverage as a result.
  • Launching an awareness campaign so that our customers better understand the need to switch.
  • Continuing to proactively engage the related industries – like healthcare pendants and burglar alarm providers to ensure our most vulnerable customers continue to get the service they need.
  • And we’re continuing to work on other things, too, including advancements to scam-call shielding and fraud reduction tools, that we know are becoming ever more important to our users of landlines.

There are some exceptions

There are some customers for whom our Digital Voice rollout will continue. This includes those using our Fibre Voice Access broadband package, which means they receive voice services over their fibre broadband. This is a legacy product which needs to be upgraded to Digital Voice.

We will also continue our rollout for customers in Salisbury and Mildenhall, where Openreach has been working closely with BT and other providers to trial the retirement and withdrawal of old, analogue landline technology. It’s important we continue this work so that we learn how to upgrade customers in the smoothest, most efficient way.

And what about our Enterprise customers? They will be upgraded to a different, business-grade IP voice product so are not affected by this temporary pause. BT’s Enterprise business will begin to proactively contact customers in phases over the coming months to advise on timescales and process for upgrading to new Digital Voice and broadband products.

Eventually, Digital Voice will be seen for the benefits it brings

Like the shift from analogue to digital TV, in the long-term, the move to Digital Voice is both critical and necessary.

It’s not just BT customers who will need to make these changes, all home phone users, with any provider, will need to move to a digital system before 2025. At BT, we have 10 million customers to upgrade by then.

I’m often asked, why do we have to move to a new technology at all, why do we need to replace the landline that serves so many customers so well and has done for years?

As I said before, the existing analogue technology is up to 40-years-old in some parts and is becoming obsolete. Manufacturers no longer make replacement parts for it, new engineers aren’t being trained on it, it is becoming less and less reliable and prone to outages and is very inefficient on energy usage.

We need to upgrade the UK’s infrastructure in so many areas, telecommunications is one of them and that includes a once in a generation upgrade to a new Full Fibre network that will be the backbone for our digital lives. It will change the way we watch TV, connect our homes and businesses and help the UK maintain its position as one of the most advanced Digital economies on the planet.

This upgrade has to happen and all customers will have to be part of this change. That includes our landline customers because the old analogue phone lines will not be supported over the full fibre network in the future.

Many other countries are doing the same and experiencing the same challenges. These upgrades are huge in scale and complexity and will see network providers like Openreach replacing millions of miles of copper with new Fibre optic cables. With a programme of this scale, sometimes we don’t always get everything right and on this occasion we acknowledge we have more work to do and will get on with putting these solutions in place to better help our customers go through this change.

I appreciate you taking the time to read this and for your understanding.

CT Bureau

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