back to article BT pushes ahead with plans to switch off telephone network

BT is forging ahead with plans to shut its traditional telephone network in Britain, with the intention of shifting all customers over to IP telephony services by 2025. The closure of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is part of plans by BT toward internet-based voice calls via a fibre network. As such it will be …

How will 999 calls work, in a blackout?

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Oh well

Does that mean free line rental then as telephone users won't have the old system to pay for now?

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Re: Oh well

So, in case of a powercut (ie, the local transformer not getting any power due to something taking the incoming line out) the backup power will be sourced off of another circuit on the local transformer?

Makes sense I guess, assuming it's a roundabout way of delivering a reduction (to zero) of the call waiting times for the call centre that takes calls about powercuts.

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Re: Oh well

No, you will not get a 50V pots line with fibre, instead at the premises you get an Optical Network Termination unit with a Battery Backup Unit which contains rechargeable cells. These will locally generate the 50V required to operate legacy POTS termination equipment. Openreach will roll this out to every line, completely removing all the copper network.

The exchange will only need a router with all optical interfaces.

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: Oh well

"Does that mean free line rental then as telephone users won't have the old system to pay for now?"

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

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Re: Oh well

Does that mean free line rental then as telephone users won't have the old system to pay for now?

Probably the reverse, at the moment with FTTP you can ditch line rental and go pure VOIP (I did) as there is no copper, with BT moving to a VOIP system they can argue that if you have copper OR fibre then you have to pay line rental as you have a line.

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Re: Oh well

Here's hoping the ONT they choose is a drop-in replacement for the master phone socket (power supply issues aside), otherwise it'll look messy and won't be a true replacement to all the phones in the house.

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Re: Oh well

Same way as it does now?

Battery-backed units in the cabinets/exchanges which provide service for a limited time? We tend to call them UPS in the IT trade. If only someone had come up with a way to UPS IP-based technology, eh?

To be honest, though, I manage a school's IT and our procedures just say "call 999". But in all the meetings we have, we are quite aware that we're much more likely to be able to do that safely from out on the playing field with a mobile phone than trying to call from a landline.

Despite the fact that we have leased lines, SIP trunks, analog and ISDN backups (for emergency calls only), we recognise that we're actually much more likely to want to be OUT of the building before we worry about that. And then if O2, EE, Vodafone and whoever else are ALL down, and we can't pick up the Wifi to SIP-dial, that that's a scenario that may call for extreme action like - going to the nearest house and borrowing their phone and hoping that's not affected.

999 call handling won't change, because the other end is almost certainly IP-based by now, at some point anyway. The call handling centre MUST be IP in this day and age, surely? With analog backups, sure, but it must be IP for the first-hop and local devices?

But to be honest, 999 calls must be literally THOUSANDS OF TIMES more likely to come from a mobile handset nowadays. Because you can flee AND call, rather than have to stay in the emergency area. Sure, for an injury, you could call on a landline but then you're tied between the landline and your patient unless he happened to collapse in a very convenient location.

I think we're being spoiled nowadays, given that only a generation ago, it could have to be a run to the local phonebox (Remember those? Remember the years of being taught how to use them to dial 999?).

I'm not saying they shouldn't provide 999 services and backups and everything else, but surely nowadays calling 999 can be done by one of DOZENS of methods. Hell, Skype even lets you dial 999. I don't see that IP conversion would inherently degrade or change the system for doing so.

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Re: Oh well

You've fallen into the common trap of assuming that everyone has usable mobile coverage. That is *NOT* the case.

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Anonymous Coward

Battery backup. At least that is how my BT phone line over FTTP works.

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Mushroom

When our exchange burnt down (and before mobiles were mainstay, not that it mattered because teh backhaul went down with it) there were police cars at major junctions so you had to leg it down to them so they could radio in.

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Re: Oh well

Openreach will roll this out to every line, completely removing all the copper network.

And will they pay for the cost of installing the copper required to carry AC mains to those remote devices which don't currently have mains power nearby?

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Battery backup. At least that is how my BT phone line over FTTP works.

For how long, 30 minutes to tide you through a thunderstorm, or 4-5 days to carry you through a major problem like in Lancaster a couple of years ago?

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Re: Oh well

I've just had their prices, yes it's 15 quid a month more expensive and we have to have the BT hub so they can firkle around with the kit on our side of the net.

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Re: Oh well

I highly encourage people to read "Living without electricity – one city’s experience coping with the loss of power (PDF) from Lancaster University, reporting on the 4-day power outage in December 2015, especially the "Communications" section, excerpted here:

"The wired telephone system, powered from batteries in the exchange, continued to operate over most of Lancaster. ... Many people who had replaced wired handsets with wireless discovered that these do not work without a mains supply.

Mobile phone systems did not hold up. ... Some have a battery back-up that continues to provide a service for an hour or two but few, if any, cope with the 30-hour loss

Most domestic internet connections were also lost.

The loss of communication services was one of the most significant problems reported by many people.

I have VoIP service, but I also still have POTS, and I still have one old wired handset plugged into a socket, just in case.

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Facepalm

Re: Oh well

Does that mean free line rental then as telephone users won't have the old system to pay for now?

Oh dear. How many more times does this have to be explained to people?

Line rental is primarily to cover the cost of maintaining a copper pair (including staff, engineer's vans etc). For historical reasons a proportion of the cost also covers the provision of a voice service. That never was the major cost though. You will need to pay line rental of some kind for as long as you rely on a cable to connect your property to a network.

Openreach have already launched a product that allows for a customer to forgo the voice service. Very few CPs currently offer it as a product but one that does is AAISP.

It saves quite a few quid over the normal cost of line rental although a chunk of the difference is due to most CPs excessive markup on the openreach product they are 'reselling'. The underlying cost of providing a voice service appears to be a couple of quid a month.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh well

Ha. In the US(ATT) were there is fibre and the power goes out you are done. You can have a generator and you are screwed. Why, the cabinet has no back up power.

This is one time were comcast has ATT beat. I had comcast and the power went out for over 3 hours. They have a battery back up. Alpha Cabinets. When they saw that the power was goingto be out for some time they came by with portable generator.

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Anonymous Coward

I can't see that this is related to FTTP rollout. There's no way they'll have the whole country on FTTP by 2025, nor will they want to visit every home to install an ONT or VOIP box.

My assumption is that they'll be replacing existing DSLAMs with MSANs, which means you will still be able to plug an analogue phone into the end of your copper line, but it will be digital from the MSAN backwards, rather than the copper carrying on back to the old exchange equipment. This is what LLU providers like Talktalk do already: the line terminates on their MSAN which handles both data *and* voice (turning it into VOIP).

If OpenReach were to take this further then the FTTC VDSL2 equipment inside primary cabinets would be upgraded to MSANs, so they could eliminate all the copper back to the physical exchange. But this would mean getting all wholesale ISPs off of LLU and onto their GEA (FTTC) products.

Maybe they can do this if they make the 40/10 FTTC product so cheap that it's not worth the other ISPs continuing to do LLU. It brings us back round to the days before LLU, where everyone ran on OpenReach's DSLAMs. But we already have that with FTTC and FTTP: no provider can install their own equipment inside a cabinet, nor light up a fibre.

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Re: Oh well

that’s not the job of the ONT as it only has an RJ 45

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>For how long

Ofcom mandate a minimum of 1 hour.

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It depends

First of all you already have that problem with regular ISDN, there the solution is simply to have a local battery backup... which your PBX will need anyhow.

If you still get a network connection depends on the way it's handled. For example classical ADSL tends to come directly from the old "switching office" where you have battery backup, so it should work fine. VDSL, particularly when done at the "curb" would need decentralized battery backups which may work. It won't work for vectoring as those boxes need _insane_ amount of power. If you have a dedicated fibre to your "switching office" to your home, it's likely to work. DOCSIS has many amplifiers and media converters, some of which are powered by the "groundstation" some are somewhere hidden inside your home.

The good thing about VoIP from a reliability aspect is that you just need any kind of decent Internet access. At work we've had many companies using even things like LTE when their wire based connection broke down. For a competent administrator it's easy to patch together a perfectly acceptable emergency solutions. This is far harder with ISDN as if your provider's ISDN switch goes down, you're toast and there's nothing you can do about it. ISDN equipment used to be highly reliably, however now 30-40 years into the lifetime of the equipment you find more and more failures, but no more spare parts.

So in short it's hard to say if VoIP will be more or less reliable given a certain situation. The main problem on current networks is that operators are trying out every new feature they can find. The result is that things like DTMF won't work, because one operator wants to do them as telephony-events, while the other one wants to do them inband (the saner alternative), and they somehow mess up signalling so both sides have different opinions on what's been negotiated.

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Anonymous Coward

"How will 999 calls work, in a blackout?"

Same way they do when the lights are on but you might need a torch to dial?

And if you mean in a power outage, then UK regulations already require that the 999 service works in that situation

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Re: Oh well

"you will not get a 50V pots line with fibre, instead at the premises you get an Optical Network Termination unit with a Battery Backup Unit which contains rechargeable cells. These will locally generate the 50V required to operate legacy POTS termination equipment. "

Which is what our local fiber optic connection is. Apparently we've had that long enough now that the last phone bill included a piece about how we might need a new battery soon. I looked and my unit still had a green light.

I hope that it lasts till they upgrade us to gigabit fiber optics which might not happen till 2019. :-(

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Anonymous Coward

Re: UK regulations

Regulators?

In the UK?

Enforcing the rules for the benefit of the punters rather than the industry itself?

You're dreaming, man.

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Re: line rental

@Dadid Webb

with BT FTTP (Infinity), there is no option to ditch the line rental, even if you don't (want to) use their phone service. Other providers may give you that option.

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Most people have cordless phones. How do they work in a blackout? A good proportion of people don't use a landline phone. How do they work in a blackout?

The answer is that this would have seemed like a problem back 20 years ago - remember when rabbit cordless phones came out? The base station had a 9V battery backup. That was the first digital cordless phone on sale in the UK, and people were probably genuinely worried about such things. These days... I think not so many people care so much.

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Re: Oh well

Or more accurately...

AAISP provide a normal PSTN Line, but then add a feature to nobble its use. They also just happen to charge a bit less for said line, and choose to forgo higher margins others make.

However, other ISPs provide said PSTN line for £10 (like AAISP) but do let you use the phone line for voice calls - it's the same wholesale service, without the nobbling.

In the case of AAISP you are paying for a line you can't use for voice but it's an ordinary line, they have no special sauce.

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Re: Oh well

@Gideon 1

Dunno why you got so many downvotes for what was an informative and correct answer.

For those who doubted you (and doubt me) I offer aintbigaintclever's video giving a walk-through of the kit installed at his house, battery back-up and all.

I also recommend his video on constructing a Penrose Triangle.

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@anthonyhegedus

Most people have cordless phones. How do they work in a blackout?

The handsets continue to work just fine, because they have rechargeable batteries in them,

The base stations, however, are a different matter. Most of them do not have rechargeable batteries in them.

The solution is to always have at least one standard phone. If you're sensible, you put phone sockets and a standard phone anywhere you have a handset charging station, because you never know where you'll be in an emergency (like a fire that incidentally happens to burn through the electrics and trip the breaker). Standard phones are cheap enough. You probably have the sockets already from back before you bought the cordless phones.

My view is that the reason you have a cordless phone is so you can wander from room to room as you talk (go to the kitchen for a snack, go back to the computer, have a piss, etc.) and you have an ordinary phone for when you've lost the cordless or in an emergency. YMMV.

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A backup battery should last several days easily, unless you spend an inordinate amount of time on calls. If you reserve it for emergencies, there's no reason it shouldn't be good for well over a week.

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I think the home analogue phone will not be replaced. At the exchange shift will be done to logically connect the analogue "lines" to VoIP.

I am not sure if I take this seriously because a lot of phone providers worldwide have been shifting from mechanical (crash and bang) to IP for so many years. I mean, one may have an analogue phone at home but at the exchange it is being transferred at IP level already.

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Re: Oh well

"or locally from a lamp post power"

Which would also be out in a power cut so that doesn't help.

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Re: Oh well

" Because you can flee AND call, rather than have to stay in the emergency area."

And if you're trapped in the area? Or you don't have a mobile? Or have a mobile with no coverage?

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Re: line rental

"with BT FTTP (Infinity), there is no option to ditch the line rental, even if you don't (want to) use their phone service."

You still have the line, it's just made of a different material. It still needs to be provisioned and maintained. If someone else allows you to not pay an explicit rental you can be sure they've built the costs in elsewhere.

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"Most people have cordless phones. How do they work in a blackout?"

I have cordless. I wouldn't expect them to work in a power cut. That's why I also have an ordinary phone plugged into another socket.

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Trollface

Re: Oh well

Have an obligatory downvote for moaning about downvotes.

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Re: Oh well

“Dunno why you got so many downvotes for what was an informative and correct answer.”

Because this is The Register comments section, where truth is determined by votes rather than fact.

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The hell is a blackout?

On a more serious note of the 5 people that still actually use a landline 4 of them use wireless phones that take power from the mains anyway. The odds of that one person needing to call 999 is almost zero.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh well

They would surely be prevented from forcing users by bundling their VOIP product with their line...

I don't want a home phone, it's 100% scam calls that the useless twats of OFCOM seem powerless to prevent... Essentially a spam line that dusturbs me at teatime

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Re: Oh well

"won't be a true replacement to all the phones in the house"

All one?

Don't most people rely on mobiles? It's cheaper for me to call Sweden on my mobile than it is on the land line!

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Anonymous Coward

The odds of that one person needing to call 999 is almost zero.

Milion to one, you mean?!

This is the fallacy I see so often in disaster planning, the assumption that something is so unlikely it isn't worth worrying about, completely forgetting that it is precisely in that unlikely situation that you'll need it the most.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh well

Don't think SoGEA (the broadband only service) has actually launched commercially yet. I have two lines in two separate parts of the country. BT Wholesale's checker reports that SoGEA is available on one but not the other.

I don't believe that AAISP service is actually SoGEA - it says that they ask BT to "renumber" the line - so it sounds like some sort of phone service still exists even if you cannot use it. I remember seeing this offering from A&A long before Openreach started their plans.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh well

Not correct. Openreach has two versions of ONT - one has four RJ45 ports (data) plus two BT sockets (phone), the other is 1 data, 1 phone. All ports work independently of each other - you could have four internet services and two phone lines running off of it if you liked. Cheap and nasty altnet operators may provide a data only ONT but Openreach still has to think about essential + legacy services.

Both can be powered off of a battery backup unit that runs off of a set of rechargeable AA (AAA?) batteries. Likely good enough for most people given the proliferation of cordless phones (and how many people take the advice to keep a cheap corded phone around for emergencies?). Will get you through most power outages, and if you're desperate you can shove more batteries in to extend life. Or just run it off a UPS.

Will be interesting to see if Openreach starts doing POTS from the FTTC cabs (unless they really do get FTTP out to the masses by then). Might just be as easy as shoving in cards capable of voice and VDSL.

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Anonymous Coward

DR/BC

In the event of a power outage, the equipment at the exchange will have a backup to cover disaster recovery situations to allow 999 calls.

It should be part of the BCDR plan for the exchange. Hopefully being frequently tested to ensure it works.

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Re: @anthonyhegedus

"The handsets continue to work just fine, because they have rechargeable batteries in them,

The base stations, however, are a different matter. Most of them do not have rechargeable batteries in them."

Isn't that a bit of a contradiction? If the base station either doesn't use or has batteries which aren't rechargeable, then the handsets won't continue to "work just fine" if the batts run out, will they?!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh well

Upvoted. I only have a landline for the internet connection and unplugged the phone last year as the only calls I got were spam.

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Re: @anthonyhegedus

Isn't that a bit of a contradiction? If the base station either doesn't use or has batteries which aren't rechargeable, then the handsets won't continue to "work just fine" if the batts run out, will they?!

No contradiction at all.

The handsets work fine. Their display works. Their keypad works. Their RF section works. They work just fine. Without a working base station they're unusable (except as paperweights) but they do work.

I've upvoted you anyway for being a pedant. :)

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sanmigueelbeer" I think the home analogue phone will not be replaced. At the exchange shift will be done to logically connect the analogue "lines" to VoIP."

That's how the system has worked since system x was introduced decades ago, over BTs network not the public internet. The announcement can only mean VoIP from the premises or cabinet. A move to purely fibre requires something that looks like VoIP so they might as well just use the existing standards.

Broadband modems sometimes have phone support built in already, virgin have it disabled in their Superhub, haven't checked BT recently but they used to have some sort of support in their modems. The hardware for adapters is cheap enough that a backup battery will be most of the cost!

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But everyone knows million-to-one chances crop up 9 times out of 10.

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