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Openreach to Pilot Alternative UK Analogue Phone Line in May 2024

Friday, Mar 22nd, 2024 (4:43 pm) - Score 19,800
Analogue-uk-phone-handset-on-red-background

Openreach (BT) has informed ISPs and phone providers of their plan to pilot the new SOTAP for Analogue product from 1st May 2024, which is a phone line service that does NOT require broadband to function and will be targetted at vulnerable users who would otherwise struggle with migrating to an All-IP (internet) based phone service by 2025.

At present all Openreach-based UK phone providers and broadband ISPs are working toward the final switch-off date (end of 2025) for old analogue phone services (PSTN / POTS), which includes adopting alternative all-IP (internet) based voice solutions – these require some form of broadband connection in order to function (i.e. internet based phone solutions become an optional extra).

NOTE: The Stop Sells Page on Openreach’s website has more detail on the switch-off, and there’s also a related blog piece. ISPreview’s summary of the recent stop sell may also help (here).

However, one of the challenges with migrating away from analogue services and on to All-IP networks is that it can make life difficult for some landline-only phone customers, such as those in vulnerable groups (e.g. people who rely on older telecare systems). Openreach has recognised that this will be a difficult group to transition and so they’ve been working with BTWholesale to develop a temporary solution.

The result is SOTAP for Analogue (Single Order Transitional Access Product for Analogue) – also known as a Pre-Digital Phone Line, which we’ve summarised before (here) and attempts to replicate (or emulate) a traditional phone line “as closely as possible“. This is a standalone product that will be available “nationally”, even in areas that have already been upgraded to all-IP broadband technologies (e.g. FTTP and FTTC / SOGEA). But the focus here is only on migrations for existing / working lines (WLR3), so consumers won’t be able to order it as a NEW product.

Openreach and BT have previously indicated, somewhat tentatively, that they are aiming to launch this product in September 2024. But before that they need to run a pilot with communication providers, which is what they’ve announced today.

Openreach Statement

Openreach is pleased to announce that the SOTAP (Single Order Transitional Access Product) for Analogue shall move into Pilot Phase from 1 May 2024. The move to Pilot Phase is subject to the SOTAP for Analogue Trial meeting Pilot entry criteria ahead of 1 May 2024.

Please note, this guidance refers only to the SOTAP for Analogue product currently in trial and not to any other iterations or variants, including the previously announced “SOTAP” product variant.

The announcement includes a pricing document, which confirms that the product’s rental pricing is being closely aligned to the existing wholesale pricing for a traditional analogue Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) product (i.e. customers won’t notice much or any change). For example, basic analogue line rental is normally £124.92 +vat per year, and SOTAP for Analogue mirrors that.

The service, once launched, is still fundamentally a transitional (temporary) product to help get vulnerable people off PSTN before December 2025. But the end goal remains to shift everybody on to an IP-based service, and BT tentatively expects that the new product may thus be needed until around 2030, albeit ultimately lasting only as long as the core SOTAP solution is actually required.

One catch in all this is that the service will be arriving quite late to the party and so may confuse some of the pre-existing messaging that consumers have become accustomed to seeing. In any case, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the pilot to see if the promise matches up with reality.

NOTE: SOTAP for Analogue lines are powered, like a traditional line, and will continue to work even during a home power cut (provided you’re using a regular phone handset, not DECT etc.).
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Mark-Jackson
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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Comments
32 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Steve says:

    Please tell me if I’m being naive here as I honestly don’t know if this is an issue, but can’t a street cabinet be adapted to use a fibre to pstn type device then copper from the cab to home, therefore adapting fibre with an emulated pots service? That way it doesn’t have to be time limited and just becomes another type of service to purchase?

    1. Avatar photo Dassa says:

      Hi,

      In theory that could be done in FTTC cabinets or G.Fast pods but there are three issues:

      1. Whilst not currently in that category, both of those are effectively transitional in the longer term as they will be replaced by FTTP, albeit not on the timescales we are talking about here. This limits the amount of money that anyone wants to invest in that infrastructure.

      2. Putting analogue equipment in these cabinets is the worst of both worlds from an analogue service resilience perspective – you now need to ensure that the batteries supporting those cabinets have a defined run time and ensure that you have measures in place to manage them in the event of a protracted power failure. It is easier to either provide power from the exchange, where it is relatively easy to manage reliability or to provide backup power at the user where it can be tailored to their needs.

      3. A lot of the problem will be in areas where there is no FTTC or G.Fast.

      In summary, if there is going to be a temporary bodge then it makes sense for it to be in the exchange where it can be implemented relatively cheaply without visiting many cabinets spread throughout an area.

    2. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      You should note that the only people who can get SOTAP-for-analogue are those who *have no broadband at all*. It cannot be used with FTTC.

      This approach allows BT to eke out a few more years of service for those who need nothing more than a voice line and are not well placed to adapt to changes to their service.

      But if you have broadband, or if you order any new phone service, you’re going to digital voice by Dec 2025 whether you like it or not.

      83% of the country are predicted to have Openreach FTTP available by Dec 2026. Getting people off analogue telephony is a pre-requisite to eventually getting them off copper and onto FTTP, as well as closing down telephone exchanges. And that in the long run will mean lower costs and lower prices.

    3. Avatar photo Steve says:

      Interesting feedback, thanks for your ideas.

    4. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      I believe that some of the FTTC cabinets already had the ability to do this but it was never implemented by Openreach.

    5. Avatar photo Mike W says:

      Deutsche Telekom has been doing POTS via a DSLAM-Linecard in Germany for years. While they are doing this in some Outdoor-DSLAMs they try to avoid it. Room in the outdoor cabinets is limited and the linecards aren’t free and utilization is better if you bundle all these old POTS lines centrally exchanges. I guess FTTC is more for locations where there is no copper (they have some hybrid fiber networks they built in the 90s, mostly in Eastern Germany after reunification.)

  2. Avatar photo Jazzy says:

    It’s a worry for my family – they live in a farmhouse 6½ miles from Morpeth but connected to Morpeth Telephone Exchange. Internet is non-existent but the Vodafone signal is good for mobile data. They totally rely on their landline and they are 76 and 77 years of age. During Storm Arwen they were without power for 2 weeks which meant the mobile ran out but the landline kept working.

    Once the power came on, their transmitter for Vodafone was damaged in the storm and didn’t come back for another 6 weeks. There are so many issues at play that an all IP solution needs to overcome

    1. Avatar photo Munehaus says:

      This is the issue. The rollout is being done on the basis that the mobile networks can handle the emergency load, yet Ofcom have not required the mobile networks to be resilient.

      While real fibre does require power for service and there’s no real solution for an extended power outage in that case, we’re at least a decade away from universal fibre coverage. What should be happening in the meantime is the mobile networks must be required to fit backup batteries/generators and have contingency plans in place for storms, before any Openreach can remove copper PSTN only services.

      Of course they’ve already dug the hole, so even if they acted today many people are likely to have unreliable emergency service access for a decade and some of the most remote users, possibly never unless alternative solutions to powering customer equipment (such as a copper feed of power from the network) are offered.

      People are quite likely to die due to this utter incompetence and failing of Ofcom.

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      why should Openreach’s product roadmap be reliant on a third party to get their act together? It’s also all well and good demanding that the mobile operators spend billions attaching batteries to every cell site, but customers will moan when their prices rise considerably to make up for it.

      if you live in an area with such unreliable power then arguably you should already be taking personal responsibility and having battery or generator storage.

      Any attempt at remote powering equipment is a non starter – Openreach want the copper gone and the altnets never had it in the first place.

    3. Avatar photo Jazzy says:

      @Ivor

      They’re former tenant farmers, on an agricultural tenancy and still allowed to live in the farmhouse for life. They can’t afford to put solar panels on and Northumberland County Council won’t give them a grant for it because they don’t own the farmhouse and any improvements benefit the owner of the land

    4. Avatar photo Clearmind60 says:

      Agree, as my parents are very elderly. They are utterly reliant on a landline.

    5. Avatar photo Dialup says:

      Panic over, they can get Starlink and run VoIP. If availability is important to them they could get a UPS too.

    6. Avatar photo name says:

      I would suggest speaking with Alncom about a Point to Point wireless connection if the topology is suitable or, failing that, try a TV whitespace based approach – also possibly available via Alncom.

      Then use VoIP for the phone on top of that. Starlink will be overkill.

      An Uninterpretable Power Supply won’t go amiss either.

      Here’s the link:

      https://www.alncom.co.uk/rural-broadband/

    7. Avatar photo S says:

      @Ivor

      You’re going to need a fairly serious UPS to run a Starlink terminal if the power is off for 2 weeks as described..

    8. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      > try a TV whitespace based approach

      TV whitespace is dead. https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2024/02/end-of-the-line-for-tv-white-space-broadband-tech-in-the-uk.html

      > You’re going to need a fairly serious UPS to run a Starlink terminal if the power is off for 2 weeks as described..

      Diesel generator – since you probably want power for your home too, more than you want Internet.

    9. Avatar photo name says:

      Didn’t even realise TVWS was effectively dead in this country

    10. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      @S – as stated above, a generator. Even a portable one would suffice if Jazzy’s parents are unable to make alterations to the property. When I said “battery” I was thinking more of the whole-house battery storage solutions that can run for quite a lot longer, not a small APC or equivalent UPS (though this is not a bad idea too)

      That is after all what the mobile companies would also have to provide if their cell sites were down for two weeks.

  3. Avatar photo Optimist says:

    Why are older telecare alarms a problem when they can easily be replaced? Newer devices not reliant on analogue phone lines are for sale, according to a flyer which came through my letter-box recently.

    1. Avatar photo The witcher says:

      Probably because that is going to cost someone else some money ,time and inconvenience

    2. Avatar photo graham says:

      correct the newer ones are digital and dont need a landline. neighbour got 1 a few weeks back. at least that is progress ie dont need landlines for them

  4. Avatar photo Suffolk says:

    All this talk about FTCC cabinets is irrelevant with my brother-inlaw who`s farm is one mile from the main road and then not a cabinet in sight for a mile or two
    Copper Broadband gives him about 2Mb download (if it works) and helpfull BT who offered to lay Fibre to the farm for £30K

  5. Avatar photo Blackfriar says:

    I moved from BT Broadband and analogue line to EE with digital voice – BT kept nagging me and making offers to move, which I now understand is because they want all residential customers to be EE and use their billing system so they can finally shut down CSS which is 60 years old.
    Anyway the digital line, which I thought would be crystal clear like my mobile, is noisy. Yes it’s an analogue to digtal adaptor to keep the same DECT phones but it’s crap. The FTTC broadband isn’t much better, slowing down at peak times unlike BT, so I guess the EE backhaul pipe from the exchange is more congested.
    Due to a related dispute with BT I’m now moving back to BT and analogue line free of charge. Utterly useless. The only advantage of having BT broadband and line is that when they cut me off while working on the joints, I can go out and ask them to fix it. If I was with another ISP the answer is “you need to report to to your ISP”

    1. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      That’s not true. It makes no difference who your service provider is, because Openreach and BT are separate, and Openreach are obliged to treat all SPs equally.

      If you talk to an Openreach engineer who’s working in the street and you say your line just went down, and it seems related to the job they’re working on, they’ll probably try to fix it – but they don’t care whether you’re a customer of BT/EE or any other service provider.

      Equally, you can’t just walk up to an Openreach engineer and report a fault with a BT line: they’ll still say you have to contact BT.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Yes, after LLU all ISPs are treated as equal

      watch this interesting video training CS reps on how to handle different providers:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3SdZuOAd98

    3. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      “new EE” broadband is technically identical to BT broadband, as I understand it. There’s no realistic way in which you can have peak time performance issues with one and not the other

      Also skeptical of your claims of noise on digital voice. Again, not realistic given that even if you use the phone port on the back your line length goes down from potentially several km to a few feet. The special BT digital voice handsets (or indeed any DECT handset paired directly to the hub’s built in base station) would be even better still as you’re avoiding an digital/analogue/digital conversion step.

    4. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      @Ivor

      I’ve had BT digital voice for over 2 years with the SH2 and there has there has never been any noise on the line. I’ve used a mixture of BT advanced digital handsets plus I’ve rewired all the old house extensions to plug into the phone jack on the SH2. I would say the problem was with Blackfriar’s internal setup possibly the digital phone adapter. BTW DECT is an interoperable standard and it should be possible to pair any DECT handset directly to the Smart Hub to achieve at least basic telephony.

    5. Avatar photo Phil says:

      Absolute nonsense. Mark can you delete this nonsense? We don’t want to see clearly fake news misleading those less informed about the industry.

      Openreach are not BT Retail.

  6. Avatar photo Jimmy says:

    I’d bet any money this is still going to be in use well beyond 2030. Good solution though.

  7. Avatar photo Chris Pollard says:

    Is this relevant to those of us in apartment blocks of McCarthy Stone and similar with analogue call and alarm systems? We are being told that it will cost tens of thousands to change over to equipment compatible with the digital network. What we would like to find is a clever bit of kit to allow the present equipment to be kept but still work on digital costing much less!

  8. Avatar photo Jackie says:

    We have digital voice and full fibre with bt. Phone line terrible compared to the old copper. Tend to get an echo back of what you say. Try and answer a call and phone goes to synchronising status. Had lots of problems when it first went in. Were getting nowhere until got local MP involved and he soon got action and resolution

  9. Avatar photo Nick Roberts says:

    And there was me oiling the signal telegraph,shaking the moths out of my semaphore flags and fuelling-up the hilltop signal brazier in anticipation of the imminent successful introduction of Digital Voice. Oh ye of little faith.

  10. Avatar photo Frances Schamberg says:

    Is anyone going to ensure full mobile coverage before this all happens?

Comments are closed

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