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Switchover from analogue to digital telephony: UK consumer and micro-business reactions

The current UK telephone network – the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) is reaching the end of its life and needs to be upgraded. By 2025 all consumers will be migrated over to using landline telephones over Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. We wanted to further understand the potential impacts of the migration on customers who have additional requirements and may still be reliant on PSTN for certain services so we commissioned 46 in-depth interviews across the UK with residential and business audiences. 

“The landline is almost like the ‘old faithful’ in my life… Mobiles aren’t always the most reliable. It’s always been there and it connects my other systems [care alarm] so it makes a big difference to me”

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.

Our key insights are outlined below:

  1.  Awareness of the VoIP switchover was generally very low, but awareness was more varied amongst expert businesses.
  2. Overall, most people accepted the concept of the VoIP switchover as technological progress – though some were upset that a trusted technology was being taken away. It was seen in similar terms to the analogue to digital TV switchover some years ago.
  3. Consumers – including those most at risk of detriment and businesses reliant on PSTN – generally believed they understood what the VoIP switchover meant when it was presented to them.
  4. There was considerable variability of response among expert businesses, with some seeing PSTN as more reliable, and others perceiving VoIP to have benefits in areas like telemetry and others not knowing enough to have a view.
  5. There were a number of factors that could increase or decrease the likely impact that switchover could have on customers. The most important indicators of increased risk of impact were not having broadband at home or the office, but age, more severe disability, cognitive impairments, low digital literacy and limited support from friends or family were all factors leading to potentially higher impact.
  6. There was a wide variety of different types of landline setup, related to the number and type of PSTN services being used and the placement of master, power and extension sockets.
  7. Participants felt they could manage the switchover themselves, perhaps with support from friends and family. They were more likely to anticipate needing help from providers after the switch with potential issues around compatibility in order to avoid gaps in their landline service – though most people accepted it was their responsibility to source and pay for new handsets if required.
  8. Participants considered that the onus is firmly on providers to initiate the switch and support customers to migrate, to provide the necessary routers and basic instruction and offer hands-on support if needed during the process, potentially including checking phone compatibility. This may include providing extra help to people with additional access requirements.
  9. The most frequent questions raised about the switchover related to timescale and cost, but issues of reliability and performance, the role of the CP, extension sockets, external rewiring, compatibility and the impact of power cuts on the service.

We identified a number of recommendations for communications providers, UK and devolved governments and Ofcom that could run in tandem with their current plans for switchover:

Communications Providers should:

  1. Get to know customers’ additional requirements, and promote widely the Vulnerability Policy that they are required by Ofcom to publish, explaining the benefits of services they operate that are designed to provide additional support to customers with access requirements.
  2. Take responsibility for informing customers (including those who are not online) of the switchover 12 months in advance to ensure there are no unwelcome surprises.
  3. Train staff to explain to customers simply why the switchover is happening and what benefits they will receive from it, using consistent language across the sector.
  4. Collect feedback from customers who have been switched to VoIP and share learnings with other CPs to lessen potential impacts on consumers, particularly those with unusual set-ups.
  5. Display clear information on their website and other materials to enable current and potential customers to get in touch with queries related to the switchover.
  6. Ensure that customers understand what they can expect from CPs in terms of the provision of new routers and other equipment, and what they will be required to action themselves.
  7. Use relevant branding and signposting to ensure consistency and protect consumers from scams.
  8. Provide a database of VoIP-compatible products online and via a helpline to allow customers to check whether their equipment is compatible before the switchover happens.
  9. Provide information about requirements in relation to extension sockets, including information about options for wireless handsets and the costs and processes for re-wiring.

UK government bodies and Ofcom should:

  1. Work with communications providers and consumer groups to agree consistent and consumer-friendly terminology around the switchover, learning from examples in other countries such as Australia’s ‘Check-Select-Connect’ campaign.
  2. Develop a consistent, easy to understand communications plan to raise awareness of the switchover. This needs to consider consumers, micro-businesses, suppliers of services that use PSTN and people who do not use the internet.
  3. Create an agreed and understood ‘VoIP-ready’ symbol or logo to help consumers make an informed choice when buying new handsets and other equipment prior to switchover.
  4. Monitor and publicly report on communications providers’ efforts to promote services to consumers with additional access requirements.
  5. Ensure communications take place well in advance, particularly to expert businesses that may require more preparation.

You can read our research findings and recommendations in English and Welsh below: 

Communications Consumer Panel - Switchover from analogue to digital telephony - UK consumer and micro-business reactions (Word version)

Communications Consumer Panel - Switchover from analogue to digital telephony - UK consumer and micro-business reactions (PDF version)

Newid o analog i deleffoni digidol (Panel Defnyddwyr Cyfathrebiadau)

The full research report by Jigsaw can be found below:

Impact of VOIP Switchover, Jigsaw for CCP, August 2021

If you have any difficulties accessing content on this page, please email us at contact@communicationsconsumerpanel.org.uk