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Virgin Media O2 Restart UK Digital Landline Switchover Project

Monday, Apr 8th, 2024 (3:11 pm) - Score 8,800
Virgin-Media-Phone-Handset

Broadband ISP Virgin Media (VMO2) has today restarted their Digital Landline Switchover programme (i.e. migrating old analogue landline phones to IP-based services), which was paused at the end of 2023 as part of their commitment under a Government-led charter that is designed to limit risks for vulnerable users. But changes are afoot.

At present, most network operators are in the process of shifting from old analogue style phone services to digital ones, which is due to several reasons. For example, very few people today make use of their old home phones to make calls (mobile, VoIP and internet-based messaging have largely taken over) and much of the world is increasingly moving to fibre optic lines, which carry information using light signals rather than electrical ones over metal cables (copper or aluminium).

NOTE: Around 1.8 million people use vital telecare devices / alarms in the UK (e.g. elderly, disabled, and vulnerable people) – with many located in rural and isolated areas.

In addition, the old analogue services have generally become outdated, less reliable, and increasingly difficult to maintain, with spare parts often proving difficult to source or being discontinued altogether. The catch is that newer Internet Protocol (IP) based voice solutions require a broadband connection in order to work (i.e. you plug your old handset into the router or an ATA adapter, rather than a wall socket) and aren’t as reliable (e.g. power cuts can cause problems, especially when protracted).

On top of that, quite a few customers of landline-only phone services are still reliant on older telecare devices / alarms for medical support, especially in emergencies, and these often aren’t compatible with digital phone services.

Speaking of which, Ofcom are currently investigating Virgin Media’s migration of customers from analogue to digital landlines, which focuses upon whether they’ve been treating vulnerable consumers correctly and “ensuring uninterrupted access” to emergency services (here).

Suffice to say that Virgin Media, much like BT before it, has spent the past few months reviewing their approach to the Digital Landline Switchover programme while it was paused. The programme has now restarted, albeit only on a “voluntary basis … with no vulnerable or telecare customers moving across at this stage“. But there’s more..

Changes to VMO2’s Digital Landline Switchover

Ever since we first launched digital voice services in 2018, we put in place a range of measures designed to support customers with the transition.

This has helped millions of people successfully connect to the digital landline network, providing them with reliable services for the decades ahead.

Despite already offering industry leading solutions such as a free-of-charge Emergency Back-Up Line (EBUL) – with an eight-hour battery life that far exceeds the minimum Ofcom requirements – for those who need it, we committed to doing more.

So, after listening to concerns about the industry wide-programme, in December last year, telecoms companies came together to sign an industry-wide voluntary Government charter which saw us commit to better protecting vulnerable and telecare customers through the transition. Following this, we took the decision to pause all switchovers whilst we undertook a detailed end-to-end review of our processes and worked to further improve them.

That work is now complete, and building on the support we already have in place, we’ve now introduced a host of new measures which make it easier to identify and support those who need extra help. For example, we have improved the communications customers receive; our engineers will provide additional in-home support; and we have carried out extensive checks to better identify vulnerable or telecare users.

Following every switchover, we’ll check that customers are using their landline in a similar way to before, and proactively contact anyone we suspect may be having issues.

We are also working closely with the rest of the industry, alarm providers, local authorities and the TSA – the UK’s largest telecare body which we’ve now joined as a member – to identify how we can further collaborate to support our most vulnerable customers and raise wider awareness of what is happening.

However, Virgin Media correctly warns that ultimately “every customer will need to be switched over to ensure they can continue to receive a reliable landline service“, and further details on the steps they’ll be taking to help vulnerable and telecare users switchover successfully will be released in the near future.

At the same time the operator is also calling on local authorities and telecare providers to “step up” their game, particularly those that still haven’t engaged network operators on the issue. For example, they’re calling on the Government to create a Telecare Charter, which they say should set out a range of commitments, create uniformity and clarity and encourage these parties to work with the telecoms industry to help ensure nobody is left behind.

Specifically, the charter should help to ensure relevant data is shared to help us identify more vulnerable customers and detect alarm numbers; that telecare operators check their devices are compatible with the new system; and that local authorities meet their duty of care obligations and proactively provide advice, support and information ahead of switchovers occurring,” added VMO2’s statement.

Now, if only network operators and telecare providers had taken this sort of approach five or so years ago, then the current situation might not be causing nearly as many issues.

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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
13 Responses
  1. Avatar photo KevinR says:

    Another type of site that may be waiting to bite OpenReach atleast, came to my attention recently. Unmanned automated petrol stations have an emergency phone in a big red box (along with extinguisher and sand). Not sure they’ll want to supply broadband to those. They probably haven’t got power in the box.

    Someone disconnected the emergency line to a supermarket petrol station, and its taken a week or so to get it back. We’re assuming someone in head office noticed they were paying for a line that never makes calls and cancelled it. Oops.

    There may be other similar locations that specify an independent emergency line.

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      it won’t be a PR thing for Openreach.

      Telecare companies can play the “poor vulnerable pensioner” card (even if many are wealthier than working age people and have their wits about them). That’s got a lot of mileage so far.

      No excuse for big supermarkets – including the one that is owned by a petrol station tycoon – not upgrading their systems. These supermarkets also don’t tend to be in very remote areas by definition, so they can’t claim there’s a lack of sufficiently high speed broadband.

    2. Avatar photo Jamie says:

      I would assume they already have broadband onsite to deal with card transactions, price updates, fuel monitoring. Running an ethernet cable to the phone isn’t that much of a deal.

    3. Avatar photo MilesT says:

      I would suggest that emergency phones in e.g. petrol stations are a use case for “SOTAP for Analogue”, which is in pilot.

      Virgin’s equipment may be more modern than a lot of Openreach’s (not so EOL), so in some cases there is less justification for Virgin to remove analogue landline from customers; other than commercial reasons. Would just need some “back end” linkage into an IP based exchange.

  2. Avatar photo Munehaus says:

    Ofcom need to take a very very close look at the entire sector over this. As fibre is rolled out a switchover is required, but the current mess is going to lead to loss of life.

    As an example, Zen an ISP I’ve used for about 20 years decided without telling me that they were going to migrate my landline to VoIP. If they had told me this wouldn’t have been such a serious issue, but I have a health condition and rely on the landline for critical medical response. I only found out 7 days after it had been disconnected by pure chance.

    To make matters worse, Zen appear to have no way to reconnect the line as I use my own router and Zen don’t yet have a solution for anyone not using their Fritzbox (they could just provide a stand-alone ATA but don’t and it seems impossible to get one of my Yealink phones to talk to them reliably) but they also don’t have any battery backup or 4G fallover solution for vulnerable customers! They also can’t reconnect the landline as they ported my number to their platform without permission! To rub salt into the wound, our line is copper and there is no date yet for any fibre provider in our area.

    Zen are supposed to be a premium service, so if that’s “premium” I hate to think what’s happening elsewhere. Of course the large providers like BT and Virgin are very visible, but there’s a whole subclass of smaller ISPs and altnets that could be creating significant risks like Zen.

    1. Avatar photo Bob says:

      They don’t change you over without you asking or they inform you in advance and ask if you are a vulnerable customer

    2. Avatar photo Munehaus says:

      Incorrect. They did in our case and have admitted it was a mistake. They also did the same to my mother, so it’s not an isolated case.

  3. Avatar photo Michael Wilson says:

    My elderly parents are with Virgin Media and got switched from analogue to digital, to be used through the router. Issue is the router is upstairs and i have been unable to find the proper phones. I’m guessing I would need 2 phones, with the base set beside the router and another that could sit downstairs. Have any other VM customers had this issue or could someone please recommend a 2 phone set that will work with the hub5 .
    Thank you in advance.

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      As I understand it any bog standard cordless phone set would work with the Virgin hub. You’d need the base plugged into the back of the hub (via the little adaptor that they send) and then you can put the cordless phones wherever you want. You could also insist on having VM come out to move the hub to a better location if upstairs is not suitable.

      If you feel your parents would be vulnerable if they went without power or during a fault, make sure Virgin know and get them to send their “Emergency Backup Line”

      Are you having problems using any existing phones that they have? Those should work as they did before.

    2. Avatar photo Only me says:

      Vm can run a line from the hub via a phone socket to the existing network. The hub simply becomes your phone connection point which was previously in the street, so connect a cablefrom the hub back to the external connection box will bring on all existing sockets. You should also request the Ebul, which are free and will allow calls if the hub, network or power fails.

  4. Avatar photo Andrew says says:

    @Only me says

    If you connect the Hub with VM’s 21cv landline service in to the existing TDM network, you must remember to disconnect the Telco connection in the external termination box (on the property wall)
    This is still live from the exchange.

  5. Avatar photo M Wilson says:

    Thank you for the replies. Yes both parents are vulnerable. I have requested the “Emergency Backup Line” and will get to currys at the weekend to get new cordless phones. I think i will also request an engineer to maybe go over the setup so it all works right. Ive taken notes of the replies to talk to the engineer about. Thank you.

  6. Avatar photo Graham says:

    Virgin changed us over August 2023 despite knowing we had no mobile signal and classed as vulnerable. VOIP is not working and emergency phone was put out of reach in the roof to try and get signal. Multiple complaints later they still have not got it working as system says no faults in our area.

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