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 …

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  1. Mike Brown

    How will 999 calls work, in a blackout?

    1. djstardust Silver badge

      Oh well

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

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          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.

        2. Gideon 1

          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.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            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.

            1. kain preacher Silver badge

              Re: Oh well

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

              1. Anonymous Coward
                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.

            2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

              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!

            3. martinusher Silver badge

              Re: Oh well

              >Here's hoping the ONT they choose is a drop-in replacement for the master phone socket

              We've been using VoIP instead of landlines for quite a few years in the US using either fiber of coaxial equipment. The customer premess equipment -- FiOS box or cable modem -- has a POTS ("Plain Old Telephone Service") connector that interfaces to the house wiring. So all the phones work like they used to. Except they don't quite. Depending on your provider I've found that ISP software can 'forget' you and claim your number is disconnected. The customer premises equipment -- either the FiOS box or cable modem -- needs to be powered at all times to work. There is a battery backup but it only lasts for about 12 hours or less. You're supplying the power, of course, and the backup battery is your responsibility (they don't last for ever). Caller ID is a bit iffy as well but as its getting spoofed by all and sundry that's probably not a loss.

              We've used both fiber and cable and phone company software aside they work just like landlines. Many people aren't bothering with landlines any more since cell service is an adequate replacement. We keep our landline on partly because we've had the number for decades and partly because the cell service can be a bit hit and miss because of terrain (at home it usually switches to WiFi).

          2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            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?

          3. Anonymous Coward
            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.

          4. NorthIowan

            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. :-(

            1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: Oh well

              we might need a new battery soon. I looked and my unit still had a green light

              That light is meaningless unless you have a particularly advanced UPS.. I've had UPSen that showed everything as hunky-dory when powered but, as soon as the power fails, the battery lasts about 30 seconds.

              From memory (and I could be wrong), the standard UPS battery tests just test the resistance of the battery and, if it's within range, shows a green light. There are lots of circumstances where the battery could have the correct-ish resistance yet have no power reserve.

          5. handleoclast Silver badge

            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.

            1. Shades
              Trollface

              Re: Oh well

              Have an obligatory downvote for moaning about downvotes.

            2. Aqua Marina Silver badge

              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.

          6. This Side Up

            Re: Oh well

            What about loop disconnec t phones? Will they be catered for by the legacy interface.

            Btw it used to be 48v (traditionally backed up by 24 x 2v glass accumulators in the basement). Are they using 50v now?

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: Oh well

              Are they using 50v now

              That nominally 2v lead-acid cell actually has an open-circuit voltage of 2.1v, so 48v nominal but a measured 50.4. Both get used.

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Oh well

          "or locally from a lamp post power"

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

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        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

        1. Lee D Silver badge

          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.

          1. RogerT

            Re: Oh well

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

            1. Blanch

              Re: Oh well

              Exactly, out village has intermittent at best reception.

              Tried to get Vodafone to do something about it, rating them poorly in their surveys, but it falls on deaf ears.

              It is a real safety issue if you cannot call emergency services due to an accident with in the village, and pretty poor to be fair, considering we are not far out of the nearest large town!

            2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

              Re: Oh well

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

              Certainly not the case at my house, And there's the actor up the road from me that's done commercials for *TWO* different cellular providers, and I doubt he's got a signal either.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            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?

          3. csimon

            Re: Oh well

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

            You reckon that the only people who need to call 999 or those that can get out the house and drive a few miles down the road? What if you have a heart attack? Or a fall? What if your house is on fire and the escape route is blocked? What if you have no mobile reception at the house or in the vicinity? What if there is an intruder in the house and you need to stay hidden?

            Never mind, you're all right Jack.

          4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Oh well

            "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."

            Aren't most people using cordless phones at home nowadays?

          5. Jaybus

            Re: Oh well

            "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"

            And what is powering the relay towers to which the mobiles must connect? Example: In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, the only working comms in New Orleans were the government's satellite phones and old POTS phones that were powered from the POTS line itself.

      3. David Webb

        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.

        1. Nevermind

          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.

          1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            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.

        2. FrogsAndChips Bronze badge

          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.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            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.

      4. AndrueC Silver badge
        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.

        1. Vince

          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.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          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.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        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

        1. Anonymous Coward
          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.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

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

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        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?

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          >For how long

          Ofcom mandate a minimum of 1 hour.

        2. veti Silver badge

          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.

        3. IGnatius T Foobar

          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?

          I have Verizon FiOS, which is the most common FTTP service in the US. The ONT they give us has a battery backup which will keep the whole service running for a few minutes, to get you through a quick power dip; after that it switches to a mode that just keeps the POTS lines running. That mode is supposed to last for about 8 hours.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        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.

    3. Ol'Peculier
      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.

      1. chalky
        Coat

        A proper copper line then..

    4. Christian Berger Silver badge

      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.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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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