Man chatting on the phone

Openreach puts the stopper on copper

Openreach puts the stopper on copper

Lets see what fibre broadband is available to you

Upgrading the UK to Digital Phone Lines

The humble copper wire has been the backbone of our telecommunications here in the UK and around the world for over a century. It has kept our hospitals, schools and emergency services connected, powered card machines on our high streets and delivered some of the most important phone conversations we’ve ever had with our family and friends. 

On the world stage, they’ve provided everything from maintaining vital and often life-saving communication during both World Wars, to relaying communications during the historic Apollo 11 moon landing mission.

During this time – the vast majority of phone calls in the UK have been handled by BT’s copper based public switched telephone network (PSTN) – an analogue system which connects people using specific phone numbers. 

But being around for as long as it has, the PSTN’s become outdated and difficult to maintain. Skills and parts are increasingly difficult to come by and new digital services like Voice over IP (VoIP) - where voice calls are transmitted the same way your broadband works, have become increasingly popular.

Back in 2017, our parent, BT saw this coming – signalling their intention to retire the PSTN network by the end of 2025 – and ever since then, we’ve been working to withdraw any Openreach products that work over it – which come under the umbrella term of Wholesale Line Rental (WLR).

WLR is used by a number of our Communications Provider (CP) customers, and we’ve been working closely with them for years to help them prepare for the change. For example, helping them to identify their vulnerable customers – those who might rely on their old copper line – early on. And we’re collaborating with various organisations to raise awareness of the change and make sure they have all the information and support they need.

As part of this whole process, we’re now taking the significant step of ending the sale of new analogue services across the UK. That means from today, when customers sign up for a new contract - or when they switch, upgrade or re-grade their service via their provider - they’ll be moved onto a new digital line rather than an analogue one.

Ideally, the new service will be delivered over our brand-new Full Fibre network - which is already available to 11m homes and businesses nationwide – but, where that’s not available, we’ll move them onto a digital alternative.

We’ve already made lots of progress in getting CPs to encourage their customers to ‘go digital’ in this way, and more than 500 of our exchange areas – covering some 4.6m premises – are now in this ‘stop sell’ phase. But with just under 10 million lines still left to convert there’s still a lot of work to do and we’d urge any CP using our network and unsure of the next steps – to get in touch.

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the transition from traditional copper wires to advanced digital fibre optic lines has emerged as a game-changer, revolutionising the way we communicate, access information, and connect with the world. This shift is not just a minor upgrade; it's a leap into the future of faster, more reliable, and efficient data transmission. 

By modernising the telephone network, we’ll be able to do more than ever before, helping the UK to stay competitive on the global stage. 

To enable this change, everyone from businesses both big and small, to data hungry families, and elderly relatives whose landline is their lifeline – will need to answer the call and get ready for the Upgrade to Digital Phone Lines.

The future is calling, and it's time to pick up.

Find out more information about stop sell and how to prepare for the digital upgrade here.

Countdown to copper switch off – a timeline

1992 – Introduction of the first commercially available dial-up internet, Pipex offer the first dial-up internet service to UK consumers

2000 – The first UK home broadband service is launched in the UK. A sole customer in Essex took advantage of provider NTL’s testing period

2008 – First residential ‘Full Fibre’ to the premises (FTTP) connection goes live. A housing development in Ebbsfleet, Kent, becomes the first place in the UK to receive telephone services and  broadband via optical fibre cables 

2010 – A service capable of transmitting data of 30 megabits per second. With this rate of speed, customers can regularly download or stream music, games or TV shows and download a full HD movie in just a few minutes

2013 – The first ‘fibre only’ exchange goes live in Deddington.  The Oxfordshire village was chosen as a pilot location for the first fibre-only exchange

2018 – Plans to retire the old telephone network within seven years are announced. This will see everyone in the UK upgraded to a digital phone line, laying the foundations for the future

2019 – Salisbury becomes the first Openreach Full Fibre city in the UK. The Wiltshire city has the fastest citywide network in the UK 

2020-2023 – Openreach stops selling PSTN based copper products initially at an exchange level and then nationally. Openreach will adopt a phased approach to stop selling copper broadband and telephony products. From September 5th 2023, this will apply across the UK

2025 – Retiring the old analogue phone network. By this time, everyone in the UK will be upgraded to a digital phone line – which will use the broadband network to make calls in a similar way to other Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technologies like Skype, Facetime, and Microsoft Teams; enabling HD calls, improved functionality and allowing the UK to keep pace with the rest of the world, all while continuing to provide the reliability and reassurance of the traditional landline