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Openreach Begin Consulting on Withdrawal of UK PSTN Phone Network

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018 (7:35 am) - Score 9,784
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As expected Openreach (BT) has today begun consulting broadband ISPs and the wider UK telecoms industry on their plan to withdraw the old traditional analogue Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and replace it with new digital, internet based (all IP) services by 2025.

Right off the bat we should clarify that this is NOT a removal of the old copper lines that underpin such services but rather a change of how the service over the top of those lines is communicated, although it will in future help to facilitate the replacement of copper with pure fibre optic (FTTH/P) lines (you’ll only be able to use Internet Protocol (IP) based traffic over the latter).

PSTN Supports the Following Wholesale Products:

WLRWholesale Line Rental

WLR3 enables CPs to offer their own-brand telephony service over the PSTN copper network. Openreach provides, maintains and repairs the lines so that CPs can supply services to their customers, without having to maintain a network themselves.

ISDNIntegrated Services Digital Network

This is a telephone-based network system that transmits voice and data over copper wires. ISDN enables customers to make phone calls while transmitting files and videoconferencing, but has now been superseded by much more reliable and faster broadband and Ethernet services. There are two types of ISDN: ISDN2 and ISDN30.

LLU SMPFLocal Loop Unbundling Shared Metallic Path Facility

This enables CPs to offer broadband services over a WLR line while another CP (or the same CP) supplies voice services on the same line – hence it being “shared”.

SLU SMPFSub-Loop Unbundling Shared Metallic Path Facility

This provides access to an access point in the local network (usually the Openreach street cabinet) to enable SLU CPs to connect to their Fibre network, providing voice services over copper and broadband over fibre.

BT has long spoken of their desire to migrate users off their traditional phone (PSTN) network (here) and switch them to IP-based voice services (e.g. VoIP). We touched on this subject again last year as part of our article – ‘The Changing Face of UK Home Phone Lines and Broadband Provision‘.

As usual there are a number of reasons for why this change is becoming necessary, aside from being a preparatory move to support the eventual migration to a pure fibre optic network. One other reason is because fewer and fewer people are using the old phone service to make calls and most of us only use the related copper line for our home broadband connectivity.

In response copper phone lines are changing. The forthcoming adoption of new services, such as Single Order Generic Ethernet Access (SOGEA and SOGfast), will make it possible for consumers to order a hybrid copper and fibre optic line based standalone FTTC (VDSL2) or G.fast “broadband-only” service without the bundled analogue phone (voice), although the latter could be optionally added later via a digital Voice-over-IP (VoIP) product.

The aforementioned solution is expected to be known as the Single Order Transitional Access Product (SOTAP).

Mark Logan, Product Director at Openreach ,said:

“We’re launching this consultation because we’re committed to play a leading role in helping the industry move from analogue to digital products by 2025.

As our customers demand faster and more reliable connectivity, we’ve already accelerated our plans to build more Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) broadband technology across Britain, and we expect to reach three million premises by the end of 2020. At the same time, we’re developing new, digital, broadband-only products that will no longer rely on BT’s ageing analogue voice platform.

The move from analogue to digital opens up exciting opportunities for our CPs to develop new products and services which will drive their businesses forward and meet their customers’ demands for decades to come.”

The consultation will run until 27th July 2018 and, before the end of May 2018, Openreach also plan to hold a series of events at venues in London, Birmingham, Leeds and Edinburgh to explain the consultation to customers and industry groups and listen to feedback which may form part of their formal consultation response.

One thing to note here is that the PSTN withdrawal doesn’t extend as far as fully unbundled (MPF LLU) lines, which ISPs such as Sky Broadband, TalkTalk and Vodafone have invested heavily in. This has enabled those providers to take more direct control over related broadband (e.g. ADSL) and phone products, although this may complicate the eventual shift to FTTP.

Finally, another key point to clarify here, in case there’s any confusion, is that the withdrawal of PSTN doesn’t mean that line rental will become free. The phone / voice component of a copper line is only a tiny part of the total cost and many people will still need the same physical copper line for their broadband, at least until FTTP but that carries a premium of its own.

UPDATE 8:53am

Some people wanted to know a bit more about how the new VoIP or Analogue Telephone Adapter (phone) connectivity would work in a SOGEA install with broadband and the general ideal is that you’d connect the phone via your router instead of via the Openreach / BT wall socket.

If you only want broadband then the phone port wouldn’t do anything (i.e. it will be a redundant port on your master socket). More details can be found in the related technical document (SIN517 on page 11 onwards).

sogea_deployment_options

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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34 Responses
  1. Phil

    How does this work in practice as I’ve never seen it explained? Will BT create a separate, low speed data link using the lower analogue frequencies on the telephone wire which joins us to their IP network where VoIP calls can be made, this data link being its own thing and separate to any ADSL or VDSL/G.Fast which already avoids the analogue frequencies, running at a low enough speed with a high signal to noise ratio making it reliable and immune from drop outs. This would then need us to have new telephone equipment of course that talks IP and VoIP and contain a modem to connect, with battery backup etc.

    Or, is this simply a change at the exchange end, where the line cards will use VoIP but we still get plain out analogue telephone audio and wouldn’t know any different?

    I’m assuming the article is talking about the latter?

    • CarlT

      The latter.

      When it eventually uses the former it will not be a separate RF carrier.

    • wirelesspacman

      They are talking about a customer needing either a special router that has one or more voice ports built into it (effectively an internal ATA – Analogue Terminal Adaptor), or the customer needing to use SIP phones that can plug directly into an Ethernet port on the router.

    • Meadmodj

      All European telcos are moving to converged voice provision combining fixed line, VoIP and mobile. These no longer need to be geographical therefore their provision and resilience can be provided centrally. It will be in BT’s interest, especially if fixed voice is carried over broadband, not to replicate geographic voice network equipment unnecessarily. This will allow not only network/cost efficiencies but release property assets. For basic phones there are simple adapter solutions or VoIP provision included within the Routers as highlighted. However for legacy items such as alarms for the elderly and some commercial devices there are dependences on the direct exchange line that will need to be resolved.

      Realistically the first phase will simply be to change the network equipment but retain the direct exchange line. The consultation will allow BT to assess the speed at which the change can occur and ratio of purely VoIP lines so they can plan continued direct exchange line capacity. The approach and speed will differ depending on the exchanges involved. BT would not be able to release property whilst the main E side cables, LLU or the MDF if direct exchange lines are still present.

      One thing is clear though the direction of travel will be to a universal service where you can use the same number/service via Fixed, VoIP or Mobile.

      In the interim technologies such as Connect2Cell/Link2Mobile may become more more popular in the UK which would further reduce the demand for fixed line. As will SOGEA and SOGfast.

      2025 is probably the aspiration for the central switching. It may take a decade or two to remove direct exchange lines but for all this to work the reliability of both broadband distribution and network connectivity needs improving.

    • AndyC

      So how would it work in a power cut?

      Would the customer (us) be responsible for battery backup? using a mobile doesn’t always work as during the last power cut (storm desmond) even the local towers where knocked out (or they switched to whatever the local emergency only protocol that’s in use, either way there was no mobile signal on any of our mobiles).

    • Meadmodj

      @Phil
      As highlighted previously consumers will need to think about UPS or similar. ADSL and Full Fibre are resilient to power outages of several days. FTTC, VIVID and Mobile are not. As we grasp these new technologies their resilience and reliability need to be considered. This topic isn’t just important it is potentially life threatening.

    • Meadmodj

      Sorry “more than seven days”

    • Joe

      Andy FTTP provides a battery backup. Can’t see why its that expensive (v the existing expensive battery backups run by BT) to provide those to everyone – free or at cost

    • Meadmodj

      Battery Backup on Openreach Fibre installs only provides for short outages. “This means you will still be able to make and receive calls for up to an hour”.

    • tonyp

      If copper is still used, would the terminating equipment be powered from the old style current loop? As has been stated above, the backup is for “up to an hour” but for those with home medical care that needs monitoring, a break of more than that could be health critical and possible no way to call for help. In any case, why should users pay for a UPS (which can only give limited duration anyway) when the existing POTS line powers the phone line and possibly lifeline services in a power outage (mine has lasted for a day on battery/exchange line before the alarms became critical).

      The more equipment introduced, the more there is to go wrong. Can the callcentres cope with the increased load from non-technical consumers?

    • Joe

      “In any case, why should users pay for a UPS (which can only give limited duration anyway) when the existing POTS line powers the phone line and possibly lifeline services in a power outage (mine has lasted for a day on battery/exchange line before the alarms became critical).”

      On your logic why should users pay for the prohibitively expensive central battery backups at present? If there are some exceptional cases better to deal with those than require network wide existing system. Most powercuts are very short. If you have exceptional medical needs then the cost of backup for that – however met – is certain to be less than the cost of the network wide backup by several orders of magnitude.

      Fwiw it looks like I could buy 48hrs of batteries for my fttp for about £10. But a UPS would doubtless last for a very long time indeed.

  2. Paul

    Playing catch up to Virgin Media as always who wants to pay for registrated internet for a premium from any provider who loans BTs lines

    • 3 of 6

      Catchup to virgin????????????

      Openreach (and their partners) is the only provider where i live, the closest virgin connection is 35 miles away with virgin already saying we are NOT in their project lightning rollout plans.

      People twine about openreach taking the easy option in the cities with the G.Fast rollout, ect but the bottom line is that virgin are every bit as guilty of the same thing and yet that is completely ignored.

      “we want gigabit speed now so openreach MUST do nothing but full fibre!!!!” errrrrrr why isnt anyone bashing virgin for not doing gigabit??????? there must be a HUGE demand for it.

    • asrab uddin

      Virgin Media already have gigabit ready network with docsis 3.1 which can be deployed much faster than gfast,

    • JamesMJohnson

      “Virgin Media already have gigabit ready network with docsis 3.1 which can be deployed much faster than gfast”… only where coverage exists.
      Openreach already has coverage so upgrading those within range to gfast is alot faster.
      One can’t take a deployment, split it into bits and then say its quicker to deploy this bit than that when the complete solution is required.
      (Note… I’m not arguing the range issues of gfast… it’s a poor solution solution)

    • 3 of 6

      Again, if they can do it why haven’t they?

      They could become the biggest (household) gigabit provider in the uk by a huge margin so what’s holding them back? could it be noone wants it?

      Would love to see a breakdown of their customer base.

    • John

      Virgin media gigabit ready don’t make me laugh. They just installed FTTP here and the packages on offer are the same speed as their copper based ones. 20Mbps upload on full fibre lol

    • asrab uddin

      Virgin media are not offering (gigabit) at this moment in time is because they want to sweat their current assets, they know openreach are years away from mass market and price,

    • Alan

      ““Virgin Media already have gigabit ready network with docsis 3.1 which can be deployed much faster than gfast”… only where coverage exists.
      Openreach already has coverage so upgrading those within range to gfast is alot faster.”

      1 Gfast is only initially going to be for 10 Million premises, Virgin and 200-300+Mb speeds reach more than that already
      2. Openreach do not have universal coverage for Gfast, you will have to be within a specific distance of the GFast pod cabinet to get the top speeds.
      3. Upgrade docsis 3 to 3.1 is far more easy than gfast
      4. Virgin do not have to do anything as BT copper based services are so far behind what docsis copper based services can do.

  3. John Nolan

    Mark,

    As always incisive analysis.
    First (and timely in the light of recent announcements by the BT CEO), I struggle to understand who is driving this – is it BT, or OR? All very messy.
    Secondly, I written before on the madness of setting an “all IP platform”, but hey what do I know? Take a look at one of ex-colleagues view of the future and note the date https://goo.gl/XbRN5N

    • Meadmodj

      Elegant engineering design was lost many moons ago. Politics, Ofcom and bad BT management decisions. A lack of investment and decision over the years regarding the PSTN specifically has now come to the crunch. So for BT the solution to the PSTN issue is EE plus. Cost cutting and releasing assets will be the driver for the next three years with a possible take over. Ofcom/Government need to think hard if they don’t want “crown immunity” to bite them.

    • Meadmodj

      Sorry “crown gaurantee”

    • Joe

      “First (and timely in the light of recent announcements by the BT CEO), I struggle to understand who is driving this – is it BT, or OR? All very messy.”

      Bt want all IP and end of PSTN.(Its a big cost saving.) Key rivals want a free ride. The mess is bad legal framework blame UK/EU for that and Ofcom which couldn’t shoot fish in a barrel. (Doubtless the barrel would need changing first and a consulation period for the shooting and weapon and ammunition. I;m sure in 20 or 30yrs they could come up with a decision meanwhile BT should provide below cost shot fish to any other fish producer!)

    • 125us

      I think it’s driven by the need to close a platform that’s been out of production since the late 90’s. No-one manufactures or sells traditional telephone exchanges that are scalable to work in a national network and I’d imagine what’s there is kept alive by scavenging.

      More fundamentally, the cost of running such an obsolete network must be significantly greater than the revenue it generates. Customers used to Skype and unlimited mobile minutes expect a phone call to be essentially free.

      PSTN call volumes have been in terminal decline since the last gasp of expansion when a flurry of new exchanges (Wide Area Tandems – WATs) were built at the end of the 90’s to handle the massive growth in dial-up Internet traffic. These calls were seriously straining the infrastructure which was built to handle lots of fairly short duration calls – long calls to ISPs were really messing with the Grade of Service which is calculation of how many trunk lines are required to support a number of phone lines. If there are 10 trunks for 100 phone lines (GoS 10:1) that would previously have been more than adequate for non big-city purposes. If 9 of those customers start making 2 hour long calls to their ISPs, the other 91 customers have to fight for the single remaining trunk.

    • 125us

      @John – That paper is essentially describing B-ISDN – the multi-purpose high-speed version of ISDN. No-one globally ever launched such a service because the Internet, and more importantly – IP, overtook the world.

      A decade (maybe 15 years) ago using IP to manage voice traffic was laughable. Now it’s maintaining a separate network for voice that’s laughable. IP is flawed for all kinds of reasons, but it’s cheap and it’s fast – more importantly it wrestled service control from the hands of the telcos. Painful if you’re a telco certainly, but the rapid development of services and applications using the Internet has happened precisely because of that loss of control.

  4. Joe

    Long overdue but this doesn’t feel like anything more than glacial progress.

  5. Phil

    So it will be a true VoIP from the premise then, with BT essentially selling a VoIP service and data services. I suppose it sort of makes sense and is progress, lets hope routers bundled with SIP/VoIP are more reliable than all the ones I’ve tried before, as they were all buggy and you could never guarantee to receive an incoming call or be able to make an outgoing call without rebooting it first!

    The next question is then why bother with a telephone number provided by BT at all if it is all VoIP? I certainly wouldn’t. If you need a broadband connection, then you will have Wi-Fi, and no doubt if you have broadband you also have a mobile phone, most mobile phones support Wi-Fi calling (and all new ones will in the years to follow) so if there is no signal or poor signal the mobile connects up via Wi-Fi using what is just another VoIP system. Having a VoIP for your telephone number from BT gets you nothing any better in terms of reliability, availability or call quality.

    • chrisp

      “The next question is then why bother with a telephone number provided by BT at all if it is all VoIP? I certainly wouldn’t. If you need a broadband connection, then you will have Wi-Fi, and no doubt if you have broadband you also have a mobile phone, most mobile phones support Wi-Fi calling (and all new ones will in the years to follow) so if there is no signal or poor signal the mobile connects up via Wi-Fi using what is just another VoIP system. Having a VoIP for your telephone number from BT gets you nothing any better in terms of reliability, availability or call quality.”

      I’m guessing that’s why BT purchased EE and there will be some more posturing as 5G starts to roll out.

    • Gadget

      Not wishing to be pic64ky but a) Ofcom own the numbers in the UK and b) without an E164 number how does a rotary dial phone in back-of-beyond, Boondocksville call you?

  6. Guy Cashmore

    What about lines that have been proven unable to support any ADSL data traffic, not even at dial up speeds, I am aware of several here in Devon, they won’t even have a phone..

    • 125us

      Even very high quality VoIP only requires 100Kbps (the phone network currently runs at 64Kbps). No-one would accept a DSL service that slow for Internet, but if it’s only providing voice I think that any line that currently supports an analogue phone line will support 100Kbps – especially as without the analogue voice service the baseband can be reused.

    • Guy Cashmore

      Sadly not, I know of several places locally that have EO lines around 15KM long, they don’t even get 64K and have had ADSL service withdrawn on them.

  7. Steve

    they can’t even provide me with a phone line or broadband and I only live in the country , BT couldn’t run a bath let alone a cable!!!!.

    • Fastman

      couldn’t provide you a phone line — or could not provide one with the £3700 (I think cost cap) any cost over that is borne by the subscriber — I assume the 10 Meg USO to operate the same ( minister said just like you order a phone !!!!)

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