We’re all familiar with Openreach right? They are the people who run the UK’s analogue and digital telephone network, connecting homes, schools, hospitals, libraries, businesses – large and small, broadcasters and governments to the world. But did you know that in 2025, the last elements of Openreach’s network will be switched off permanently as an all-IP data network replaces these legacy services? It’s not really surprising – the Openreach analogue network hasn’t really changed since 1912, an old network that is expensive to maintain. The future for all of us is a UK fibre network with all-IP traffic. This massive project will affect any Openreach service currently using copper lines, as analogue signalling simply will not work over an all-IP network.
So how does this affect you and what should you do about it?
What Services Will be Affected?
Essentially, anything currently using a copper line. That is to say, analogue and digital voice telephone services and any service that uses these lines including:
- Dial-up devices, fax, alarm systems, modem, building management systems, lift lines, PDQ machines.
- ISDN 2e and ISDN 30e digital lines which are mainly used by phone systems.
- Broadband services that run over an analogue telephone line e.g. ADSL and also FTTC Fibre Broadband
There are currently around 15 million lines that need to be migrated, therefore to facilitate this Openreach will be switching off services at each exchange in a phased approach, over the next five years. Phase 1 is to announce a ‘stop sell’ date for the exchange. From this date, no new analogue, ISDN or broadband services using an analogue line may be ordered. Whilst existing services will continue to work as normal, it is important to understand that following the ‘stop sell’ date, these services cannot be upgraded or amended in any way. There is effectively a freeze on existing services.
Phase 2 arrives two years after the ‘stop sell’ date. At this point, all analogue, ISDN and associated broadband services are switched off and may no longer be used at that exchange. September 2023 has been announced as the national ‘stop sell’ date, with the total shutdown of the UK network at the end of 2025. In effect, this is a big analogue switch-off. From this date onwards the choice is all-IP or nothing. However, this is going to happen a lot sooner for some people as Openreach has already started announcing ‘stop sell’ dates on some exchanges (well in advance of the 2023 date).
Salisbury was the first exchange to go ‘stop sell’ in December 2020 and Mildenhall has been pencilled in for May 2021. Thereafter, another 118 exchanges are targeted for June and another 51 in October. Every quarter Openreach plans to announce another batch giving 12 months’ notice on the ‘stop sell’ date. Bear in mind that there are approximately 5,500 telephone exchanges in the UK and around 15 million lines that are providing services that will need to move onto an all-IP network. That’s almost 60,000 lines per week between now and the end of 2025!
What Are the Alternatives?
To facilitate the switch off, newer technologies are being more widely adopted. For those using an analogue or ISDN telephone number service, they will need to move to Voice over IP and take a SIP service. This could be a Cloud PBX for example, although some existing phone systems will be capable of using SIP trunks (or they can be converted to do so by using a SIP gateway). In this scenario, all telephone calls would then be IP rather than using the analogue network. However the greatest challenge of IP telephony is call quality and careful consideration should be taken when selecting the data circuit used to provide telephone calls, especially when it is also over the same IP circuit as your business data, in order to ensure sufficient performance criteria to deliver good quality calls, consistently. We all expect to be able to pick up the phone and make a reliable call each and every time.
For other devices using analogue lines (PDQ machines for example), then your first port of call is the device manufacturer or service provider. You might need to upgrade the device to connect to an IP network or to a 4G SIM. For alarm lines, Openreach has announced a new device called Essential IP which will allow alarm systems to communicate over IP. It can be connected with an ethernet cable, Wi-Fi or even 4G.
When it comes to broadband, the choice is fairly straightforward. If Ethernet Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) is available, then this will be your solution. If not then there is an easy migration path to something called SOGEA, essentially an FTTC Fibre Broadband product but without the telephone line capability. The key thing is to migrate on to this service to avoid being left without a service! It’s an all-in-one service with a single monthly rental for Internet access. If you are currently using the telephone number on the associated broadband line, then you will need to ensure that your service provider manages this element in conjunction with an upgrade to a future-proofed broadband service – this avoids you losing service or your telephone number altogether.
You should also keep quality of service (QoS) front and centre of your decision-making. It is true to say that not all service providers are the same – you need a provider that really understands the sensitive requirements and needs of voice over IP connectivity, from the telephone handset all the way to the telephone network. Your call quality on VoIP will be affected by the state of your broadband line and its performance suitability. If you are hamstrung by slow internet or lag then you will suffer from very poor phone calls. Our mantra here is, ‘voice quality matters’! The negative effects of below-par communication are not just frustrating for users – they can damage your organisation’s productivity and reputation. Choose wisely. You should consider the implementation of additional technologies that improve Quality of Service on Broadband, such as Real-Time QoS (RTQoS) or Ethernet. Either of which can be implemented on BT FTTC or FTTP circuits.
And finally, don’t forget that we will all need more power sockets. Analogue telephones actually receive their power down the telephone line itself but all-IP services will require every device on-site to be powered. There is time to put your house in order before the big switch off but act now to avoid headaches further down the line
Indigo are here to help you with this transition. Please reach out here for us to help