Having just announced it was full steam ahead with its plans to evolve its national communications network by switching off the legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) in December 2025, BT has added to the reach of its digital voice offering, while its Openreach broadband division has published updated plans about where and when it’s building full-fibre broadband across the UK.
To realise its switch-off plan on a national basis – based on a decision by BT Openreach in 2019 that PSTN will reach the end of its life by 2025 – BT said it would need to transition more than 14 million traditional lines across the UK onto new digital services.
Following the decision to shut down the PSTN, it was agreed to test processes for migrating customers to fibre services and, ultimately, withdrawing legacy copper services and the wholesale line rental (WLR) products that rely on them. The programme is intended to result in homes and businesses not being able to buy copper broadband if they are upgrading, regrading or switching telecoms provider, and instead will only be able to order fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP or full-fibre) broadband networks.
Going forward, BT voice services will be an add-on to broadband, rather than a service in its own right.
Having undertaken trials of the service in pilots in the Salisbury and Mildenhall areas of the country, UK telco BT has begun the roll-out of its next-generation home phone service, Digital Voice, on a region-by-region basis, starting with the East Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber in August.
Effective immediately, BT customers in Northern Ireland are set up for Digital Voice. Customers will be contacted at least four weeks in advance before making the switch, to ensure they are ready to move. BT assured that for almost all customers, Digital Voice will have no impact on how they use their home phone. They’ll still have the same service, and price plans and bills will stay the same. In addition, and despite publicised worries, BT guaranteed that more than 99% of phone handsets work with Digital Voice, and for those that won’t, BT had a range of handsets that customers could order.
“BT customers in Northern Ireland will benefit from a tried and tested service, with around two million BT customers already having made the switch and benefitting from the many advantages of digital home phones from advanced scam call filtering capabilities to crystal-clear call audio,” said Vicky Hicks, senior engagement manager at BT.
Initially, BT will not be proactively switching anyone it has knowledge of falling under certain criteria, namely customers with a healthcare pendant, customers who only use landlines, customers with no mobile signal or customers who have disclosed any additional needs.
Digital Voice will be a service underpinned by the Openreach network, and as part of its regular programme of build updates, the broadband company has also announced 19 new locations where it plans to deliver gigabit-capable technology to more than 200,000 homes and businesses. The locations are spread across the UK in both rural and urban areas, including Chichester in West Sussex, Broughton in Greater Manchester, Perth in Scotland and Pantymwyn in Wales.
Overall, a total of 2,829 towns, cities, boroughs, villages and hamlets are now included in Openreach’s build programme, which has seen the company recently pass more than 11.5 million premises across the UK, including around 3.7 million in the hardest-to-serve “final third” of the country.
More than three million homes and businesses have already taken up an ultrafast service over the Openreach network, a take-up rate of more than 30%.
Ultimately, the company plans to build full-fibre to 25 million homes and businesses nationwide by December 2026.