It’s always been good to talk. It’s about to get even better

By Chris Howe, Customer Change Director BT, EE, Plusnet

Home phones are changing. Just as television went from analogue to digital, now it’s the turn of the humble landline. The UK is the latest country to upgrade its home phone network following Japan, Sweden and Germany. By 2025, Openreach, the company that maintains the phone network, will be switching off the 30-year-old analogue copper-based system which is no longer fit for purpose. That means home phone providers like us need to move their customers to the next generations of voice services like BT’s Digital Voice, which runs over the broadband line, rather than a separate analogue line. Virgin Media O2 is also making the same technological shift on its network.

For the vast majority of customers, the upgrade is a simple one which requires no in-home installation work. Put simply, instead of plugging in your home phone to a wall-mounted phone socket, customers can either wirelessly connect their handset to their BT Smart Hub broadband router, or plug it in to a port at the back. Calls then travel over the digital broadband network, rather than the old analogue one. Over 95% of handsets in customers’ homes are compatible with Digital Voice, so there will be no need for most customers to buy new devices. We offer Digital Voice customers the option of either a free handset or an adapter, which allows their existing phone to be used if they need one ahead of their upgrade.

Because this new digital line is capable of carrying so much more, we’re able to make enhancements to this service that have simply not been possible with the older analogue technology.

Better quality calling

Call quality is noticeably clearer than on the older, analogue network. Talking on Digital Voice is like calling in high definition, it’s as if the person is the same room as you.

Better spam call prevention

Our mobile network, EE, recently launched a new spam blocker which uses AI to identify and stop scam messages arriving on our customers’ devices. Since launch, it has stopped over 60 million scam messages. In the coming months we’ll be rolling out similar technology to our Digital Voice customers, which will identify unusual patterns and calling trends and block suspicious calls on the network resulting in a much safer experience for our customers.

Better for the environment

By removing the need for the analogue phone network, we can save large amounts of electrical power that this old network needs to run, helping us to meet our climate targets. In fact, the amount of power used by the old analogue network is one of the reasons, (alongside the fact that it’s fast becoming obsolete) it needs to be switched off.

Fully wireless homes

By upgrading our landlines so that they work over broadband, we’re removing the last remaining barrier to creating 100% wirelessly connected homes for our customers. The only connection required will be to your router. In the future. everything in the home, including computers, TVs (with our latest BT TV set top box) and now landline phones, will be connected over Wi-Fi.

Working collaboratively with Ofcom, government, and the wider industry on our plans, we began our upgrade programme last year and now have one million customers enjoying the benefits of Digital Voice. This is a huge undertaking, and we want to ensure we get it right. That’s why, at the moment, we’re only upgrading customers who already have or will be getting fibre broadband. This has allowed us to test and tweak how and when we contact our customers in line for an upgrade, letting them know about the planned change and what they need to do to prepare for it.

Supporting our customers every step of the way

Most landline handsets today require power to work, this is no different with Digital Voice. We currently advise our customers to have a backup mobile phone somewhere in their home which they can use in the unlikely event of a power outage. Calls from a mobile phone to 999 are made on any available network, not just your providers. With 99% of UK premises covered with at least 2G signal there will be some people who will need further support. For these customers, who live in areas with more frequent power cuts, we will provide a battery back-up unit which can power a Digital Voice service for over an hour.

Across BT, we’re proud of the support we offer to our vulnerable customers. For many of these customers, and others, the landline is a lifeline and the prospect of a technological change can seem scary. We want to reassure all of our customers – from the least technical to the early adopters – that when we’re ready to upgrade them to the new era of home phones, we will be with them every step of the way. We’re putting the following steps in place to ensure our most vulnerable customers are supported:

  1. We have no plans to upgrade those customers with only a landline (and no broadband line) to Digital Voice until the latter part of 2023, and will upgrade a small number of customers before this to ensure their journey is seamless
  2. We’ve put measures in place to ensure customers flagged as vulnerable customers who do have BT broadband are not upgraded until much later in the programme
  3. We’ve been working with alarm and health pendant providers who use the analogue network since 2018 to prepare them for this change. Customers will need to contact their provider ahead of the upgrade. Where we know a customer has one or both of these, we have removed those customers from the upgrade programme for now
  4. Any customer with concerns after receiving a letter from us should speak to us and we will discuss their options which can include delaying their upgrade for a year, when other solutions may become available
  5. Where needed, we will send out in-home engineers to help those customers who may require a little extra help

You don’t need to be a broadband customer

For some of our landline only customers, an internet connection is either not available or unwanted. And where broadband is unavailable, we’re looking into new solutions which use our 4G mobile network to connect a familiar looking home phone handset. We’ll be sharing more information on this solution later next year. For customers who don’t want broadband, we will simply upgrade their landline to a Digital Voice line (free of charge).

We promise not to leave any customer without a connection. We also promise to ensure that all our customers will have been sent enough information, well ahead of their upgrade to ensure a seamless experience.

So far in our rollout programme we have only been writing to those customers who are preparing for their own upgrade, letting them know weeks before their upgrade day. Later next year, we’ll be rolling out a far-reaching public awareness campaign to make sure all our customers know what to expect between then and 2025.

We’re looking forward to rolling out the next generation of home calling in the coming years, allowing everyone to enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution.

About BT

BT Group is the UK’s leading telecommunications and network provider and a leading provider of global communications services and solutions, serving customers in 180 countries. Its principal activities in the UK include the provision of fixed voice, mobile, broadband and TV (including Sport) and a range of products and services over converged fixed and mobile networks to consumer, business and public sector customers. For its global customers, BT provides managed services, security and network and IT infrastructure services to support their operations all over the world. BT consists of four customer-facing units: Consumer, Enterprise, Global and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Openreach, which provides access network services to over 650 communications provider customers who sell phone, broadband and Ethernet services to homes and businesses across the UK.

For the year ended 31 March 2021, BT Group’s reported revenue was £21,331m with reported profit before taxation of £1,804m.

British Telecommunications plc is a wholly-owned subsidiary of BT Group plc and encompasses virtually all businesses and assets of the BT Group. BT Group plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

For more information, visit www.bt.com/about