BT delays controversial landline switch affecting 2 million people

Get back to the past with rotary dial home phones.
Land lines are less common than they once were -Credit:GPO/Amazon

BT has delayed its deadline to transition all customers onto the new digital network, amid ongoing worries about vulnerable customers who rely on landline-based personal alarms.

The group, which also serves EE customers, has abandoned the industry's previous goal of completing the national switchover by the end of next year. Instead, it now aims to have transferred all customers by January 2027.

Network operators including Openreach and CityFibre had already committed to ensuring that those who depend on telecare alarm systems - emergency buttons that automatically dial emergency services via a user's landline - are not left without a functioning device during the migration. Almost two million people in the UK use these alarms.

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The telecoms industry is currently upgrading landline services to new digital technology using an internet connection, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), Digital Voice or All-IP telephony. While telecare systems do work with digital landlines, they can fail during a power cut or internet drop-out, whereas copper phone lines typically continue to function even during power cuts.

Back in December, telecommunication firms including Virgin Media O2 and BT put a stop to forcing customers onto the new digital network following several "serious incidents" where personal telecare alarms failed. BT has outlined a "revised" schedule that entails various enhancements designed to better safeguard vulnerable customers and individuals with additional needs, such as telecare users, reports the Mirror.

Additionally, they have resumed the transition process for "zero-use" landline customers who have broadband to their Digital Voice service. BT Consumer customers who are not only landline users, telecare users or those with additional needs, will be asked to shift to a digital landline that works via full fibre broadband where it's accessible.

BT Group's chief security and networks officer, Howard Watson, stressed the importance of making this switch: "The urgency for switching customers onto digital services grows by the day because the 40-year-old analogue landline technology is increasingly fragile."

"Managing customer migrations from analogue to digital as quickly and smoothly as possible, while making the necessary provisions for those customers with additional needs, including telecare users, is critically important. Our priority remains doing this safely and the work we're doing with our peers, local authorities, telecare providers and key Government organisations is key. But more needs to be done and we need all local authorities and telecare providers to share with us the phone lines where they know there's a telecare user."

Rocio Concha, Which?

director of policy and advocacy, voiced her concerns, stating: "Vulnerable people must be protected during BT's digital migration, including ensuring that telecare users and those who rely on their landline will always be able to contact emergency services when they need to."

She further underscored the importance of the transition, adding: "The transition to digital landlines is necessary and offers advantages but it's essential no one gets left behind. The government and Ofcom must be prepared to take tough action if firms fail to live up to their responsibilities to customers."