BT’s Openreach has opened a consultation with communications providers (CPs) over preparations for the monumental task of shifting 16 million phone lines in the UK to voice-over-IP by 2025.
The move is part of BT’s plan to shut its traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) in Britain, and shift customers onto a mainly fibre-based network.
As such, Openreach will withdraw its Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) products, which are reliant on the PSTN. The company told us:
The PSTN is an amalgamation of networks. In the UK, the PSTN is linked with the formation of the General Post Office telephones, dating back to the late 1880s although the current generation of equipment dates back to the 1980s.
The document, seen by The Register, said: “This is a significant change for CPs and the wider industry. Over 16 million lines will need to migrate to alternative services by the end of 2025 and CPs will also need to consider how customer’s equipment (both residential and business) may need to be upgraded to support All IP voice services.”
From 2023, the company will no longer supply WLR products. James Lilley, general manager for copper and service products at Openreach, noted the business already plans to shift three million premises to full fibre by 2020 and 10 million customers to its ultrafast hybrid fibre and copper G.Fast product. Both of these will be compatible with the PSTN replacement.
“Our aim is to have as many customers [as possible] on fibre products. But there will still be a gap for those who can’t get fibre,” he said. “So as part of the consultation there will be a new copper product to fill that gap [that will be VoIP compatible].”
Asked whether industry had been given enough time to prepare for the change, he said: “This is obviously a big challenge, as there are a lot of WLR customers. So we have seven years to move 16 million lines to new services.”
That figure includes lines across residential and business customers, as well as special services for alarm lines, lift lines, and health care products. “There is a whole piece around how does industry make sure all those services are ready,” he said. “We have deliberately put a long time window on this, giving it plenty of time to work with industry.”
He said the current proposals are for a hard cut-off by 2025. “There are a number of ways we can achieve that. For example, if CPs haven’t moved anybody by then, there is a process in place to move onto other provider – a supplier of last resort.” Some CPs will see the change as an opportunity to move customers off legacy infrastructure onto a new product range, whereas others who are currently just voice resellers, may have to rethink their current business model, he said.
Itret Latif, interim CEO at industry body the Federation of Communication Services, said the withdrawal of WLR products represents a huge change for the industry.
“We are pleased that Openreach notes the need to work closely with FCS and, over the coming months and years, we will be working with them and members to ensure that relevant issues are addressed. He said: “These include: disruption to services, retail future of voice, switching in a multi technology environment, migration timelines, retail contracts management, infrastructure timelines, commercials and new relationships and also APIs that are required – all to be smoothly managed in good time for the 2025 deadline.” The consultation will run until 27 July 2018 with a number of events planned across the country to explain the consultation to customers and industry groups and get feedback.