All-IP - The migration of Analogue and legacy WLR and ISDN services on the PSTN
Openreach held a consultation with communications providers (CPs) over preparations for the monumental task of shifting circa 16 million telephone lines in the UK to voice-over-IP by 2025.
The move is part of the Openreach plan to shut its traditional public switched telephone network (PSTN) in the United Kingdom and shift customers onto a mainly fibre-based network. As such, Openreach will withdraw its Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) products, which are reliant on the PSTN.
What is the PSTN?
The PSTN is an amalgamation of networks. In the UK, the PSTN is linked with the formation of the General Post Office telephones, dating back to the late 1880s although the current generation of equipment dates back to the 1980s.
"This is a significant change for CPs and the wider industry. Over 16 million lines will need to migrate to alternative services by the end of 2025 and CPs will also need to consider how customer’s equipment (both residential and business) may need to be upgraded to support All IP voice services."
What are the Timescales?
From 2023, the company will no longer supply WLR products. James Lilley, general manager for copper and service products at Openreach, noted the business already plans to shift three million premises to full fibre by 2020 and 10 million customers to its ultrafast hybrid fibre and copper G.Fast product. Both of these will be compatible with the PSTN replacement.
“Our aim is to have as many customers (as possible) on fibre products. But there will still be a gap for those who can’t get fibre,” he said.
“So as part of the consultation there will be a new copper product to fill that gap (that will be VoIP compatible)."
WLR Retirement – what you need to know
What is WLR Retirement? What’s happening?
Openreach, who provide most of the UK’s telecommunications and broadband infrastructure, have announced that the UK telephone network that is usually known as the PSTN is to be closed down. This is a lengthy project that started in 2018 and will finish in 2025. At the end of 2025, all the traditional phone lines in the UK will no longer provide a voice service and the remaining infrastructure will only be capable of providing data only broadband data services.
What are the stages?
For the national network, there is an End of Sale date set for December 2023, after which no new PSTN services will be installed, and an End of Service date of December 2025 when the network will be switched off.
What products/services are being closed down?
The traditional voice network will see the biggest impact. Copper phone lines (aka Analogue or PSTN lines) will no longer be available, also ISDN2 and ISDN30 voice services, and the CPS call minutes service will also cease to exist. ADSL and FTTC broadband services that currently rely on the underlying PSTN will cease to operate.
What this means in real terms is that phone lines will no longer work; a normal phone plugged into the wall socket will have no dial tone and will not ring. The ‘number’ associated to the line will need to be moved to a VOIP (voice over internet) service or it will be lost. In addition, because there is no phone service, the ADSL or FTTC broadband service as it is today will not work.
To replace the ADSL and FTTC broadband services, new copper-based Single Order Broadband products will be released that do not depend on the underlying PSTN function and are presented solely as Broadband circuits with no traditional voice element. Openreach are also focusing on making Fibre-tothe-Premises (FTTP) more widely available – FTTP services utilise fibre-optic cabling straight from the serving exchange to your premises and has no reliance on the PSTN service.
What will happen to my existing Broadband service?
If you currently have a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) service, then there will be no change.
If you currently have an ADSL or Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) service, then this will need to be migrated to either a Single Order Broadband service or a FTTP service ahead of the WLR retirement. We are currently working with our suppliers and will be offering single order services later in 2020 and will be in touch to discuss in due course.
Is this happening across the whole country?
Yes, this will affect the whole of the UK. There are also two trial areas – Salisbury in Wiltshire, and Mildenhall in Suffolk - where the switch off is happening much sooner, in December 2022.
Is it just being turned off?
Yes. Openreach are not replacing the phone network themselves, people who want a telephony serviceover their broadband line from 2025 will need to buy a VOIP service from another supplier.
Has the timescale for this been impacted or delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic?
No, the dates and milestones have been successfully hit by Openreach and the dates have not moved. We should not expect them to be delayed.
I live in or have a business in Salisbury and/or Mildenhall. What’s happening there?
The situation in these areas is a little complex but the short story is that in the very near future it will not be possible to buy a new copper telephone line in either of these locations, the only new connections available will be fibre data only services or (in Mildenhall only) a mix of fibre and copper data only services. In 2022 the existing phone lines will then be turned off.
Salisbury – Stop Sell 1st December 2020; Turn Off – December 2022 Impacted Products – WLR3 (PSTN), ISDN2 and ISDN30, SMPF, MPF, FTTC. Salisbury is FTTP ONLY for new sales from Dec 2020.
Mildenhall (Suffolk) – Stop Sell 4th May 2021; Turn Off – December 2022. Impacted Products – WLR3 (PSTN), ISDN2 and ISDN30, SMPF, MPF. Mildenhall is FTTP and Single Order Broadband services for new sales from Dec 2020
I live in or have a business in Salisbury and/or Mildenhall. What should I be doing?
: If you have an existing phone line with broadband in these locations today you need to beaware that your service will have to change in the next 2 years. You will have to move to a data-only line before December 2022.
In the meantime, your line will continue to work as it does today. If you are looking at expanding your connectivity, from December or May this year, the things that you can buy are going to change to the reduced list. Suppliers will not be able to offer you a new PSTN line or ADSL connection, only a data-only service.
What will happen to my home phone line?
These will also be impacted by this project. Domestic providers like BT, Sky, TalkTalk etc are likely to be offering their own voice services to go alongside their broadband, but the nature of VOIP means that consumers will be free to buy from anyone else offering a VOIP service, and have it delivered over their broadband-only line. Claranet do not operate in the domestic market so are not able to comment further on what those domestic offerings may be.
What about my alarm line/PDQ machine/Franking machine?
There are a large number of non-voice uses for PSTN lines that have been developed over the years. The advice from Openreach and from OFCOM is not to try and replicate the PSTN line for these uses but to redevelop them to work over mobile voice (I.e. with a SIM card) or over data services like WiFi. You should contact the provider of the equipment and ask them how to replace your equipment with new versions that do not require a PSTN line.
Do I have to have a phone service on my broadband line?
No, the line will not require a phone service, and people will continue to be able to use ‘over-the-top' voice and video calling services like Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp etc. without restriction. For businesses, there are services like Claranet Hosted Voice and Claranet Teams Voice that will enable businesses to retain their geographic phone numbers within a cloud-based voice platform.
It is anticipated that many small business and domestic users will not want to keep their existing local phone number but use a mobile phone number instead.