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BT Start Deploying UK Digital Voice Service Across East Midlands

Tuesday, Jun 20th, 2023 (9:07 am) - Score 4,616

Broadband ISP BT has this morning confirmed that they’ve begun the expected region-by-region roll out of their Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) based home phone service, Digital Voice, in the East Midlands of England. Once completed, the deployment will next be extended to Yorkshire & Humberside, and then Northern Ireland.

Customers will be contacted at least four weeks before being upgraded, to help ensure they’re ready for the switch. The regional approach will be supported by general awareness communications, and advertising campaigns, delivered across local and regional media to help explain the simple steps required to make the move to Digital Voice (i.e. users will plug their handset into the broadband router or an ATA [analogue] adapter instead of a wall socket – more details). BT will also be present on high streets and at local town hall drop-ins to help explain the change.

NOTE: The move to IP based phone services is NOT limited to BT. The same issues are industry-wide and affect all providers of phone services.

The Digital Voice product was designed to replace BT’s old analogue phone service, which will cease to function once the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is completely withdrawn by December 2025. After that point, all future phone services, whether delivered via copper (ADSL, FTTC, G.fast) or Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) lines, will become IP (internet) based and require broadband to function.

The latest move into a regional roll out phase reflects BT’s first major non-pilot deployment of the service since it was paused last year. The pause followed complaints from customers, particularly vulnerable users, who discovered some of the caveats of modern IP based systems. For example, without battery backup, the service won’t work during power outages and some kit, such as older home alarms and remote medical monitoring alarms, may cease to function.

However, for the time being, BT confirmed that they won’t be proactively switching anyone who falls under the following criteria (where it has this information available): Customers with a healthcare pendant, those aged 70+, land-line only customers, customers living in an area with no mobile signal and those who have disclosed any additional needs.

Vicky Hicks, Senior Engagement Manager at BT Group, said:

“BT customers in the East Midlands will benefit from a tried and tested service, with around two million BT customers already having made the switch and benefitting from the many advantages of digital home phones from advanced scam call filtering capabilities to crystal-clear call audio.

For almost everyone, moving to Digital Voice will be a simple and free transition with no home installation work required. If you feel you need additional support with the transition or you think you are vulnerable, please do tell us. We will be with you every step of the way.”

Interestingly, BT noted that “more than 99%” of phone handsets now work with Digital Voice, although they didn’t provide any data to substantiate that figure. Nevertheless, the provider added that they have a range of handsets that customers can order if the customer’s current handset fails to work.

BT has so far upgraded around 2 million of their customers, which leaves another 7 million left to complete. But at the end of the day, all providers with copper-based analogue phone lines are having to make the same transition, whether they like it or not. Luckily, most home users today now prefer mobile, VoIP and internet messaging (where available), while home phone services have become more of an optional add-on.

BT’s Other Digital Voice Improvements

➤ Hybrid phones that can switch to a mobile network and have a built-in battery.

➤ Customers can now nominate a family member, friend or carer who will receive all the information about switching on their behalf.

➤ Existing customers with additional needs such as health pendants, or those without mobile coverage at home, will be able to take advantage of free additional support. These options range from free battery back-up units to engineer supported installations or hybrid landline phones.

➤ BT are also continuing to invest in the Shared Rural Network, improving 4G mobile coverage in more than 900 areas across the UK by the end of 2023.

➤ And they’re continuing to work with healthcare pendant and burglar alarm providers to ensure the most vulnerable customers continue to get the service they need.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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39 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Charles Smith says:

    With my 55 years in IT I fall into the BT category of 70+ and I can’t wait for a BT engineer to turn up and explain VOIP to me. I wonder how much a convincing fake hearing aid costs. Eh? You’ll have to speak louder lass. You want to unplug my foam?

    1. Avatar photo Jonny says:

      What are you hoping to achieve by pretending you don’t know what the change involves?

    2. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      LOL, I know someone who would do that sort of thing.
      After Friday the 30th, I won’t have any landline.

  2. Avatar photo steve says:

    I switched to BT for FTTC yesterday and the only option was to plug the phone into the router, is that the standard now? I was surprised that this was the norm when FTTP isn’t available for most of the town yet.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Yes that going forward that will be standard way of receiving a landline. From September this year Openreach will stop supplying conventional landline phone services (PSTN) to new cutomers regardless of whether the broadband is by full fibre (FTTP) or copper wire (FTTC, ADSL or G.Fast). The incoming wires will continue to carry the broadband service there will be no dial tone.

  3. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    If anyone has existing wired telephone extensions around their home this video will explain how they can be rewired to work with BT digital voice :- https://youtu.be/Id_KGXMcJHk?list=PLexbWs0Wp_H6LvKLZ6n5fyUknvlMag-Su&t=5

  4. Avatar photo Fibre Scriber says:

    Does this mean the Digital Voice rollout in Northern Ireland will begin at the end of August? Can see delays coming!

    1. Avatar photo John says:

      For existing customers yes.
      Any new customers will be put on to Digital Voice immediately

  5. Avatar photo Adam says:

    Baffles me people still use landline phones when mobiles are far more convenient. Admittedly we have a landline at home only to make our broadband package cheaper.

    It’s never been used.

    1. Avatar photo Munehaus says:

      If you have poor mobile coverage and no need for internet access, but need a reliable way to call for help (common for many situations from disabled response alarms to building sites) then a landline is still the best choice.

      Ironically this one unique selling point is being removed by making it dependent on both power and broadband.

    2. Avatar photo Just a thought says:

      Really useful for deliveries/trades too they call the house and whoever is in can answer. Don’t have to stop the car and pull over just to find its a call from the plumber to see if there’s anyone in so they can fix the tap etc

      Safer for Children, it’s easier to monitor whether the calls they are making are safe and not so done ringing them on an unnecessary mobile in their bedroom.

      Useful if you’re in the phone book as a sole trader etc. People know you are local and 6 digits is easier to advertise.

      Just because you don’t want a landline doesn’t mean others want to do without too.

    3. Avatar photo MilesT says:

      Many older people have difficultly physically holding/using a mobile phone.

      Can also be a problem with some kinds of Parkinsons.

      Also few mobile phones have full support for hearing aids

      I know there are mobile phones that are “packaged” like traditional landlines but these are not that well promoted. I also know there are 2G/4G/5G “gateway” products (not VoIP, but allow a standard landline phone to get a mobile dialtone and receive and place calls) but these are expensive (intended for remote offices) and also not well promoted. These also don’t handle fax (although that has become a non-issue).

      Potentially a hole in the market for simple and cheap Mobile adapters for landlines, but possibly not much market in the hole nationally (could be enough on a worldwide basis because mobiles are standardised enough based on SIMs and eSIMs.)

  6. Avatar photo DaveZ says:

    Yes, I’m Leicester. I had the initial email yesterday. Consensus seems to be that this is usually 5 to 6 weeks before switch over. (Although it could be much longer).

    My main annoyance here is the covert attempt to lock customers back into using the ISP’s kit again. I thought we’d passed that stage in the country? What is OFCOM playing at? (DV is proprietary to BT and only works through the smart hub 2, which has to be directly connected to the internet, if anyone doesn’t know). Other ISPs seem to be set to go down the same route.

    Fortunately, I’m tech savvy enough to set it up as a gateway for my Draytek and continue running my network through that. Unnecessary complexity though, and too much for most users. Annoying.

    1. Avatar photo Justin says:

      It does seem like BT are potentially going to lock customers into lengthy broadband contracts, due to their “Digital Voice” service only being available through their “Smart Hub” routers… “Smart Hub” routers which only work with BT (or EE) as your ISP.

      There should be independent PSAs on TV, radio, and social media, advising landline users that they can port their existing landline numbers to third-party VoIP services which can be used with many more combinations of routers and ISPs.

      Most people will be baffled by these developments, and will blindly sign-up for their existing landline provider’s voice services (possibly committing themselves to long ongoing broadband contracts).

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      Yet another example of the disconnect between ISPr users and the rest of the country, who aren’t interested in 3rd party equipment and don’t care as long as they get “the wifi” (sic) on their devices.

      As I understand it, the ISP delivered services use VoIP but are not VoIP, ie they are treated and regulated as landline services, with the same expectations on quality of service (power cuts have been conceded already). That is why virtually all ISPs lock it down to their routers. They’ve evidently had challenges getting it up to scratch already, and patently wouldn’t want the headaches that would come with misconfigured SIP kit by people who think they know more than they do.

      A “PSA” to confuse people with techno jargon would also have to explain the differences there – how VoIP providers are not expected to provide reliable service, that it may not be linked to the correct address for 999, etc.

      BT already has two options for those who must use their own kit – go broadband only, or go to the business side where they supply separate VoIP equipment

    3. Avatar photo DaveZ says:

      Firstly, DV is not VoIP but a proprietary version of, which is why it locks people into using BT’s equipment again.
      Secondly, there is a third option, if you know how to forward all traffic from the SH2 to your own router. (Although I would accept that most people are not interested, but that’s their watchout).
      And thirdly, do you really want access to your network via a router under third party control?

    4. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      if you really want to faff around and have double NAT, yes, you could run your own router off the back of the BT router – but what does that actually give you aside from higher power consumption and complexity?

      as I said, most people are quite happy with the ISP kit. Do you have any credible security concerns or is this just scaremongering?

      for what it’s worth, I have had a play with my BT SH2 (using its ethernet WAN port) – looks like the DV traffic is encrypted. I’ve never used a third party VoIP service that encrypts media and signalling. What were you saying about security again…?

    5. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      It should also be possible to go for Internet only service from BT and use a third party service for VOIP e.g. voipfone.net then you can use standard kit and connect your draytek direct without SH2. A bit beyond most users I know but an option worth exploring for techies. In fact I’ve seen modern draytek routers with built in VOIP adapter. When my contract is up I will be exploring this option as it will make future isp moves more straight forward.

  7. Avatar photo FlossyThePig says:

    Will BT still be charging for calls using their current rates rather than matching those of VOIP providers?

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      LOL, you know full well they will, it is Bt after all.

      I had a leaflet come though my door yesterday from BT, offering me BT TV and full fibre for £39.99 a month on a 24-month contract, normally £54.99. The price has an Asterix next to i and in the small print, which is small and printed on a dark background, says the normal thing of price increasing by inflation+3% . Too late now anyway, signed up with Zzoomm, not that I would sign up with BT, ever again.

    2. Avatar photo Jonny says:

      People who still need/use landlines are likely best served by call bundles, 700 minutes a month for £8 is close enough to what most VoIP providers offer.

  8. Avatar photo Optimist says:

    My phone was switched recently by Virgin Media to work on 21CV, their version of Digital Voice. The only change is that phone is plugged into the hub rather than the now dead phone socket. That is to say the functions previously provided by the PSTN exchange (dialling tone, ringing for an incoming call) are now provided by the hub instead.

    When I look at the list of devices connected to the router, showing the IP and MAC addresses, the landline phone line is not mentioned at all. So 21CV is not VOIP, it’s just Plain Old Telephone Service From The Hub (POTSFTH). I suspect Digital Voice is pretty much the same.

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Everything will be the same, but what some people are not happy about is that if there is a power cut, then you have no phone, also there are some things that will not work with VoIP.
      i know the majority of people have mobiles, but not everyone does.

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      The router is itself the VoIP endpoint, there wouldn’t need to be a separate device listed with a different MAC address. It is however still SIP based VoIP, as was explained last time you brought it up here

      The BT version has advantages over VM’s, as the router has a built in DECT base station and with appropriate handsets (including of course BT’s own) you can get multiple calls and HD voice. And of course the BT smart hub has an actual UK socket on it, rather than an RJ11 that needs an adapter as with Virgin.

    3. Avatar photo 125us says:

      It is VoIP but it’s not using the same network as your broadband. Telco’s VoIP services don’t use the public Internet and aren’t in the same address space.

      How on earth could it be POTS?

    4. Avatar photo Optimist says:

      25us says:
      “How on earth could it be POTS?”

      Because the SERVICE TO THE CUSTOMER is still POTS, unlike Vonage, Zoom and others, which fit the description of VOIP if you google it. IMO advertising the service as VOIP could well be in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act or whatever it’s called these days, because it is misleading.

      You might as well argue that POTS is already digital, because the core network between the telephone exchanges went digital years ago.

    5. Avatar photo John says:

      POTS = Plain old telephone service.

      VOIP/Digital Voice is not POTS or PSTN.

      It might be treated different to 3rd party VOIP providers as far as regulation goes but that doesn’t make it POTS.

    6. Avatar photo 125us says:

      It is not POTS. It is VoIP. How many times do you have to be told this by people who actually know? It uses SIP/RTP over a private IP network. The presence of an ATA in the hub or router does not make it POTS.

      Why do you persist in claiming that a service carrying voice over an IP network is somehow not voice over IP?

    7. Avatar photo Optimist says:

      125us says:
      Why do you persist in claiming that a service carrying voice over an IP network is somehow not voice over IP?

      Oh dear. No-one is disputing HOW DV or 21CV work, just what the USER EXPERIENCE is. On a LAN you can have multiple soft phones, each capable of making and receiving voice calls independently – that is what has become to be known as VOIP. I don’t know about BT, but I know that VM make it quite clear in their forum that 21CV does not offer a full VOIP experience – just delivers the traditional service in a slightly different way.

      It would be better IMO simply to use the term VOIP only to describe the technology, and use a term such as Unified Communications, which some already do, to avoid any ambiguity.

    8. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      UC typically means something different, in the business context it’s having integration between phone, email, IM, video chats / meetings and all the rest of it, which is why firms typically pick one supplier for all of the above.

      The whole point of the ISP-provided systems is that the user does not need to know that it is VoIP based. It has none of the issues that typically arise from third party VoIP. It should essentially behave like a landline in every respect (though no one guarantees fax/modem usage). Virgin have chosen to dumb it down to “plug phone in here instead of there”. BT is more upmarket, but just sells the new features (particularly HD voice call quality) instead of the technology.

  9. Avatar photo Meadmodj says:

    Closing the PSTN is a big task. BT appear to be approaching it correctly with physical presence and targeted communication even if it inevitably will showcase their portfolio. Primarily they will be hoping that their task can be reduced by increasing FTTP conversion and the continued decline on landlines. It is not in their interest to transfer consumers that do not actually use a landline (estimated to be around 25%).

    The old view that the Landline was the primary product and broadband the secondary has long passed. People need to understand that telephony will be an added service. To utilise extras (BT products such as DV, Hybrid Backup and WIFI Complete) they will need to use the router provided by their particular ISP. The large ISPs with their purchasing power provide good quality routers for the products they offer. If you don’t want to embrace a particular ISPs product offering or you have specific requirements then really they are not the type of ISP you should be using.

    Centrally provisioned Voice over Broadband (Digital Voice/Internet calls) to the router is different than basic VoIP in a number of ways. In my view this also needs to be highlighted and is it also the simplest way for the general consumer (both practically and experience). Many will simply choose not to continue with a landline. Those that choose to continue with a landline equivalent are probably best to continue with their current ISP and consider other DV/VoIP options in future.

    If there is any criticism its a lack of emphasis on the ability to use existing equipment and house wiring (all leading ISPs).

    At least we know what BT are doing. What about the other landline ISPs?

  10. Avatar photo Clive peters says:

    will switching off PTSN improve FTTC speeds due to less interference?

    1. Avatar photo John says:

      DSL (including ADSL & VDSL2(FTTC)) use frequencies above what are used for voice transmission with a gap between the 2 frequencies.

      There’s currently no interference between the 2 and they will not utilise the tiny amount of frequency currently used for voice for DSL. The few kB/s improvement that would bring wouldn’t be worth the hassle of changing the band plans in use.

    2. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      No, but I would recommend removing all other equipment connected to the incorrect incoming line, eg voice extensions so the router is connected directly to the incoming line.

  11. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    There is a problem with removing the dialtone from the landline completely, as it means there isn’t a simple liveness check on the line that can be done at the socket or in the cabinet (just plug in a traditional analogue phone to the home socket–master or extension, or use a traditional test handset in the cabinet)

    Could change the dialtone to a repeating audio loop that indicates the transition.

    1. Avatar photo Jonny says:

      Openreach staff or contractors who don’t know how to check for service without hearing a dial tone shouldn’t be working anywhere near the network 🙂

      Having a repeating audio loop means maintaining the current equipment that provides PSTN service, defeating the purpose of making this transition.

    2. Avatar photo 125us says:

      There speaks the voice of someone who last worked on a last mile network in the 1990s. What you suggest has been prohibited for years because it causes service dropouts on the many products that use the copper network that aren’t pots.

  12. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    I presume without a dial tone openreach staff just use a tone/signal generator connected at the cabinet to test the line.

  13. Avatar photo MikeA says:

    Wait, it’s only just rolling out in Yorkshire? Because I randomly lost my traditional landline and was forced onto digital voice when I upgraded over a year ago, I wasn’t even told it would happen.

    Well I upgraded initially and I was still on a traditional landline. But there was an issue with the upgrade (mistake with the order). It was reversed, then I upgraded again and this time I was just casually changed to digital voice without notice. I assumed this was because nobody had a choice and it was a required migration in the area.

    They didn’t even send the free phone BT give (or were at the time, I don’t know if they still are) until I stumbled onto the fact I should have got one whole researching what on Earth was happening.

    I would have kept the old style as long as possible if I had known it wasn’t rolled out here officially yet.

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