The Copper Switch Off – Extended Date

BT Group reported last week that the switch-off date for ISDN and PSTN copper based services has been extended from 31stDecember 2025 to 31st January 2027. This delay offers additional time for businesses and consumers, especially those who are vulnerable, to transition smoothly to more advanced IP-based systems.

For over a century, phone calls in the UK have been handled by the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). PSTN (Public Service Telephone Network) is the umbrella term for the complex infrastructure of telephone lines, satellite links, and switching centres which connect one caller to another when a specific phone number is entered. Digital services will take their place, namely Internet Protocol (IP) or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, through which users can make calls via broadband or mobile data.

The decision by BT Group to add 12-months to the previous deadline gives the industry more time to address various challenges.

Within its results for the full year to 31 March 2024, BT Group said, “Following the industry-wide pause to non-voluntary migrations in December 2023, we now expect to have migrated all customers off the PSTN by the end of January 2027, allowing us to align the programme with full fibre broadband customer upgrades where available.”

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Paul Valentine of Spire states, ‘It is reassuring that BT Group recognise that much more awareness and education especially to the business sector is needed. Recently during a lunch meeting attended by well-established businesses, a show of hands identified that the message of the copper switch-off had not been received previously the result of which could have significant operational consequences to businesses who were not planning accordingly.

We are regularly talking to businesses about the change and recognise that the Copper Switch Off can cause some confusion why businesses need to transition to all-IP alternatives. If systems are specified correctly there is a significant commercial and operational opportunity for every business to transition to future proofed technologies to meet their plans.’

An Openreach spokesperson clarified what this means for customers. They said, “BT has announced its decision to move out the date for switching off the PSTN – the old copper based analogue phone network. In response to this – Openreach has taken the decision to align the withdrawal of our products that work over it – which come under the umbrella term of Wholesale Line Rental [WLR], with the new switch off date of 31 January 2027. 

Eli Katz, chair of Comms Council UK, commented, “Comms Council UK are disappointed but not surprised about BT’s announcement around the shift in deadlines surrounding the closure of its PSTN network – or more specifically the cessation of WLR and ISDN services by the end of 2025. This is hugely frustrating given the investment in replacement products and services, and the communications with customers that our members have already undertaken to align with BT Group’s previously communicated plans.

“This project is naturally a huge challenge for all of industry. Comms Council UK have been calling for more coordination and support from government and Ofcom to support this shift for several years now. Resting the communications plan solely on the industry has inevitably led to confusion as customers need clear and aligned messaging to provide sufficient understanding and reassurance on this major shift.

“We will continue to work with the various industry groups to help spread the message. There are clear benefits and opportunities for both customers and the broader economy of moving to an all-IP world of communications. We want to ensure this transition does not slip any further and provides those clear benefits to UK plc.”

Itret Latif, CEO, Federation of Communication Services (FCS), added, “As there has been no consultation by BT, we have been surprised by this announcement and are working hard to understand the implication for our members. 

“FCS has been working closely with all stakeholders from the very beginning to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible for the industry. Many of our members have used the original date to develop and invest in their products, customer communication, internal operations and commercial strategies to make sure that they adhered to the original deadline. 

“The BT announcement of the revised date will therefore cause confusion and rework for our members which will have operational and commercial implications.”

Paul Valentine adds that Spire will continue to assist existing and new business clients transition to IP based telephony platforms from worldwide recognised vendors such as 3CX. If any businesses are unsure what copper-based services are currently active in their business and the consequences post Jan 2027 then we are available to assist on 0330 2050250. 

Why act now?

We are already supporting existing and new clients make the switch onto modern IP phone systems that run on fibre instead of the outdated copper wires that PSTN uses.

Most businesses pay for both phone service and internet access – switching to IP calling brings both under the same roof for lower overall cost and a host of other benefits including improved accessibility for example the ability to make and receive calls on smart phones, including high-quality video conferencing features as standard,

Openreach is dedicated to this hard deadline and has been preparing for the switch-off since 2016. In the public sector, many systems including, hospitals councils and the  rail and motorway infrastructure, will need to be updated to function after the PSTN switch-off, and this work is well underway. However, the private sector needs to take the initiative to adopt IP services now instead of down the line.

2027 may feel like it’s a way off in the future, but it’s under three years away and as more businesses adapt the availability to access your preferred engineering teams will undoubtedly become more challenging as engineering slots become less available. Additionally, your choice of provider and the most cost-efficient pricing could be restricted if your current Agreements extends to a further minimum period which is typically twelve months.  This is why we recommend businesses that have not already switched to IP telephony or VoIP should start checking their telephone system contract anniversary dates now; the sooner you adopt the new technology, the sooner your business can benefit from IP based calls.

How can you prepare?

Businesses that don’t adopt cloud phone systems before the PSTN switch-off will face more problems than just being unable to make calls. Many alarm systems are also connected to a company’s phone lines. If these are still operating on legacy hardware by the time the switch-off comes, they will be rendered inoperable.

Also, lift alarms and other points of contact in an emergency often run on PSTN and must be upgraded before 2027.

Communication providers such as Spire are aware of how many organisations use PSTN lines and appreciate the effort required for systems to be swapped out or updated before the deadline. For seamless transfers including porting of company’s main line numbers the more time a company takes in advance, the easier its IP transformation will be.

Whilst smaller businesses need to consider replacing handsets or adapting to desk based and mobile telephony systems larger businesses may need to retire large amounts of outdated equipment and draw up strategies for new opportunities offered by IP including call analytics and customisable hold messages. This will require extensive planning, so should be completed sooner rather than later to prevent a stressful and costly transformation closer to the deadline.

How can my customers adopt these services by 2027?

We are ready to help businesses make the transition as smoothly as possible, whether it involves swapping old handsets for new ones all at once, or through a phased approach that sees critical systems retired and upgraded one by one.

Once a business has adopted IP telephony, it only pays for what it needs and can easily scale its systems up or down at any time. Between now and 2027, a company may rapidly expand, move location, or enter a new market and seek stats on how its new customers respond to its calls. On a legacy phone system, this would mean added hardware and maintenance costs, limitations on where it can move, and complicated oversight to draw statistical insight from calls.

For any advice on how to transition to IP based systems please call us on 0330 2050250.

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