A significant milestone in Openreach’s (BT’s) journey toward fully phasing out the old copper-based Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) by December 2025 is set to be reached on September 5th, 2023. On this date, a nationwide “stop sell” order will take effect, prohibiting the sale of new Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) and associated broadband ISP products across the UK.
This move, while not impacting existing users of these services (until the 2025 deadline), means that individuals seeking to purchase a traditional analogue copper phone line rental service (WLR and SMPF) from a provider for the first time (new order) – along with any related broadband offerings (e.g., FTTC, G.fast, ADSL) – will no longer have this option.
Please note that this cessation of sales is part of a broader, longer-term initiative aimed at gradually retiring copper lines and migrating consumers to Openreach’s full-fibre (FTTP) network.
An exception to this rule is fully unbundled (MPF) lines, which are offered by various ISPs like TalkTalk and Sky Broadband. These ISPs have invested to gain greater control over BT/OR’s lines, enabling them to provide more affordable and flexible copper-based broadband and phone services. Such ISPs will continue to offer related products to new customers after September 5th, 2023. Nevertheless, this arrangement will not be permanent, and even the older exchanges will eventually be phased out (post 2030).
This change primarily affects ISPs that rely heavily on regular (WLR and SMPF) phone and broadband lines, including BT, Zen Internet, and several others. The positive aspect is that Openreach has been developing alternative copper-based broadband solutions over the past few years that are not dependent on the old PSTN/WLR services.
Of course, Openreach’s ultimate objective is to transition everyone to their gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) lines. However, not all areas are covered by this yet. Thus, consumers in such regions will still have the option to access broadband through specialised versions of ADSL (SOTAP), FTTC (SOGEA), and G.fast (SOGFast) products. These essentially consist of standalone copper-based broadband lines without an analogue phone service.
The crucial distinction here is that individuals in a WLR/PSTN “stop sell” area who order or upgrade to one of these new broadband-only (SOTAP, SOGEA, SOGFast) lines may not automatically receive a phone service (this becomes an optional add-on). Customers desiring a home phone service will need to confirm that their ISP offers a digital (IP-based) phone solution (e.g., BT’s Digital Voice product).
As previously discussed, digital phone services differ slightly and often involve customers connecting their existing phone handsets to the back of a broadband router (assuming it has an FSO/FXO phone port) or an Analogue Terminal Adapter (ATA) device (which plugs into the LAN port on the router), instead of the old BT/OR Master Socket (e.g., NTE5A, NTE5C) on the wall.
Some providers, like BT, have already encountered challenges with their Digital Voice service, highlighting certain caveats associated with the new approach and its added complexity (e.g., the need for battery backup during power outages). This underscores the importance for consumer-oriented ISPs to have appropriate solutions in place for a seamless migration when the time comes.
However, it’s worth noting that the industry has been aware of this impending change since before 2017, leaving little excuse for a retail provider to be unprepared at this stage. Nonetheless, as demonstrated by BT’s situation, other providers may still encounter issues and complaints during the transition.