Getting Digital Voice right for our customers


By Nick Lane, MD Customer Services, BT Consumer

Earlier this year, we paused the major rollout of Digital Voice – BT’s new home phone service that will mean calls are made over our broadband network, rather than the old analogue network which has been around for more than 40 years.

Doing this means replacing technology that is fast becoming obsolete with a new digital service that will provide crystal-clear calls and help prevent the vast majority of scam calls.

Don’t worry: your landline isn’t going away. We’re carrying out a necessary upgrade to the technology that supports customers’ phones in their homes. One that will bring long-term benefits and a service fit for the future.

We underestimated the disruptive impact this switch 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. Pausing has enabled us to take time to listen to our customers’ concerns and their specific needs to make sure we have the right options and equipment available when we are ready to resume the rollout.

So, what have we been doing in the meantime?

We have appointed Lucy Baker to lead the huge body of work to move customers’ landlines onto the new digital technology and, critically, to make sure we get things right for our customers. Lucy’s experience in communication projects essential to public safety means she is the right person for the job.

Lucy was awarded an MBE for services to the NHS during the pandemic, when she led BT’s coordinated Covid-19 response. Working with healthcare providers in the NHS – from CEOs to critical care staff – Lucy supported the LifeLines project designed to connect families with their critically ill loved ones in ICUs in 150 hospitals across the country. Using the latest 5G technology, she led the development of solutions to support remote triage and diagnostics.

Drawing on her experience as Head of Customer Engagement for the Emergency Services Network, Lucy founded the Digital Voice Advisory Group. It’s an assembly of charities and representative groups brought together with the intention of better understanding how the switch will affect different customers.

This group of key stakeholders has been indispensable in helping to shape our plans for when we come to restart switching customers to digital later in 2023. Specifically, we’ve consulted them on how best to create awareness among customers so they understand why they need to switch, what they need to do, and how to speak to us if they have any concerns.

We’ve been testing this approach with customers in Salisbury and Mildenhall, who will be among the first in the UK to benefit from the changeover to digital phone lines as part of our pilot schemes. Lucy has taken her team and their information bus into town to speak directly to customers, as well as any friends and family who wanted to find out more about the switch and raise any concerns.

Taking the time to listen to our customers and having experts on hand to help has been a great success. We plan to take this approach when we are ready to restart the rollout.

This brings me to the final part of this update: I want to reassure our customers that when we do restart, likely in the spring of 2023, we will contact you ahead of time and give you the opportunity to raise any concerns with us. And we will have the key solutions in place to provide customers with confidence in their new home phone service 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. In the past 12 months, we’ve improved mobile coverage in more than 500 areas across the UK. And we expect to extend coverage in a further 900 locations by 2024.
  • Raising awareness so that our customers better understand the need to switch.
  • Continuing to proactively engage related industries – such as healthcare pendant and burglar alarm providers to ensure our most vulnerable customers continue to get the service they need.
  • We’re continuing to work on other things, too – including advancements to scam-call shielding and fraud reduction tools, which we know are becoming ever more important to our landline users.

We need to upgrade the UK’s infrastructure in so many areas. Telecommunications is one of them – and that includes the switch from analogue to digital phone lines. This, alongside the once-in-a-generation upgrade to a new Full Fibre network, 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.

And we are working hard to upgrade our customers in the smoothest, most efficient way possible.