Dialling-down the number of telephone exchanges as the UK gets ready for a digital, full fibre future
By Howard Watson, Chief Security and Networks Officer, BT Group
As customers gradually switch from copper to fibre networks and as landlines go digital, the number of local telephone exchanges, which have kept the nation connected for over a century, will reduce from c.5,600 today to just 1,000 by the 2030’s.
Fibre networks require less equipment, are more efficient and can connect more customers from fewer exchanges. Openreach have therefore set out an ambition to exit three pilot exchanges by March 2025, a further 100 by December 2030, and a large majority of the remaining 4,500 exchanges by the early 2030s.
The first three exchanges that Openreach will exit will form part of an industry-wide pilot that will see BT and all other Communications Providers connected to the Openreach network switch their customers over from copper to fibre.
The three pilot exchanges are:
- Deddington, Oxfordshire – March 2024
- Kenton Road, Greater London – September 2024
- Ballyclare, Northern Ireland – September 2024
While the technology that powers it is changing, the landline is here to stay. BT will be offering consumer customers its new home phone service, Digital Voice – where calls are made over a broadband line. For business customers, we offer a full suite of Voice Over IP (VOIP) products which combine all the features of a traditional phone system with the flexibility of the cloud - supporting the smallest home offices to the largest corporations and government departments.
Our aim is to support customers every step of the way and to make sure that vulnerable customers and the UK’s Critical National Infrastructure providers are guided and protected as we exit exchanges. Ultimately, though, we will need everyone in these pilot areas to make the switch ahead of the deadline.
We’ll be contacting all residential BT customers yet to make the switch in each of the three locations at least four weeks in advance of any changes taking place to help ensure they’re ready to make the switch to a digital landline. Business customers will be contacted even earlier, to plan their migration to new All-IP services.
Residential customers who identify as vulnerable, have additional needs or rely on their landline will be provided with additional support. This ranges from free battery back-up units to engineer-supported installations and hybrid landline phones, which have a built-in battery back-up unit and can connect to the mobile network. Customers can also nominate a family member, friend or carer who will receive all the information about the changes on their behalf.
Business customers are also advised to check what devices they have connected to their landlines and should speak to their device provider or manufacturer about the compatibility with a digital landline before making the switch.
Consumer customers with any questions, concerns or who want to let us know about their circumstances ahead of the switch to Digital Voice, should get in touch with us on 0330 1234 150 or visit bt.com/digital-voice. Business customers can call 0800 800 152 or visit The PSTN and ISDN switch-off: what it means for you | BT Business.
BT will be working with Openreach, Government, Ofcom and local stakeholders to monitor progress and we’ll be inviting customers to local events to help raise awareness.
The switch to a digital landline will have no impact on how BT customers use their phone and will not cost any more than they pay today. They’ll still have the same service and price plans.
We understand that any change can be unsettling – that’s why we are here to support our customers, to make the experience as seamless as possible.