The switchover from analogue to digital telephony: the reactions of UK consumers and micro-businesses

24 August 2021

The current UK telephone network – the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is reaching the end of its life and needs to be upgraded. The existing network is over 35 years old and will be unable to meet the demands placed on it in the future. 

Work on this upgrade has been ongoing for several years now, and by 2025 all consumers will be migrated over to using landline telephones over Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. This means everybody currently using a standard PSTN landline, and anyone who has any technology connected to a landline, will need to switch over to the new digital network. 

The Panel has identified a risk that policy-makers’ and industry’s preparations for migration to VoIP may not have given sufficient weight to some people’s specific circumstances. Some customers (both residential and business) have additional requirements – they may  still be reliant on PSTN for certain services such as care alarms or fax machines, or lack the right equipment in their home to switchover easily, or simply not understand what they need to do when the switchover happens. There is therefore a risk that they may be adversely – and in some cases seriously - impacted by the switchover.

We wanted to further understand the potential impacts of the migration on consumers, citizens and micro-businesses so we commissioned 46 in-depth interviews across the UK with residential and business audiences.

Our primary objectives were to understand:

  • The needs of customers that may have additional requirements and/or be at risk of detriment when the changes to landlines services occur, so that sources of potential harm can be identified and mitigated against;
  • The level of knowledge and confidence of those people who may be at higher risk of detriment in their ability to carry out the switchover, and the level or type of support they may expect from communications providers (CPs) and other organisations;
  • Whether third parties such as family and friends assisting those with additional requirements anticipate being able to support them through the migration;
  • The extent to which organisations selling/supporting/commissioning technology that is dependent on PSTN lines are aware of, and preparing for, the upcoming changes to landline services.

To access our research reports including our key findings and recommendations for communications providers, UK and devolved governments and Ofcom, please click here.

The Panel's Chair, Rick Hill, has also written a 'fact-piece' on the switchover, which provides an overview of our research findings and recommendations - the article has been published on the Digital Policy Alliance's website here.

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