The UK’s telephone network is being upgraded, which means that landline services are changing. You can still have a landline in your home, but the technology that powers it will be different. For most, switching over will be straightforward, but some people may need new equipment or support to make the changes.
What’s changing and when?
Traditionally, landlines have been delivered through an analogue network, but this is being replaced by digital technology.
The new system is called 'Voice over Internet Protocol' (VoIP), but you may also hear the terms 'Digital Voice' (from the landline provider BT) or digital phone.
What is VoIP? Will I need an internet connection to make phone calls?
VoIP is a type of phone system that uses an internet connection to make and receive calls. Given this, you'll need an at-home internet connection to use the new landline digital system.
Once you've moved to the new digital system, your landline will mainly work as it always has, although there'll be some differences – for example, it won't work if there's a power cut unless you have a battery backup.
The changeover has started, and some people have already been moved to the digital system.
For almost all networks, the changeover will have happened by December 2025.
The BT network, which is used by some other telecoms providers, will close by December 2025. Most other companies with their own networks, like Virgin Media, plan to follow the same timescale.
BT has started to roll out its programme on a region-by-region basis. However, in general, they aren't currently switching certain groups, including:
people aged 70 and over
people with additional needs
people who only have a landline (and not broadband)
people with telecare alarms
people with no mobile signal at home.
Other companies have also started rolling out digital systems. In some areas, changes to the network will mean that everyone needs to move to the digital system. You may also be moved to the new system if you decide to move to a new phone and broadband package.
If you haven't been moved over yet, don't worry – your phone company will get in touch with you when they want you to make the change.
What is Broadband?
Broadband just means a high-speed internet connection.
Why are these changes happening?
The current landline network needs to be replaced because it's old and is becoming difficult to maintain. The new system uses the internet to make phone calls – this offers better quality calls as well as some additional features.
Phone and broadband companies are leading this change. The Government is supporting it. The aim of Ofcom (the communications regulator) is to make sure customers don't face unnecessary disruption or harm because of the changes.
What happens when I change to the digital system?
Your telephone provider will contact you in advance to let you know when your system's changing and what you need to do. In some cases, an engineer will need to visit to make changes.
For lots of people, the change will be straightforward. If you already have a broadband connection, you may just need to plug your phone into your broadband router or you'll be sent an adapter that connects to your phone and plugs into your router. If you have more than one phone socket with separate handsets, you may need additional adapters.
When you're contacted by your provider let them know if you have any questions or concerns about moving to the digital service, or if you need any additional help.
Can I keep my phone number?
Yes – in most cases you’ll be able to keep your current phone number.
Will I need a new phone?
If your phone handset is very old, you might need to change it. Your phone provider will be able to advise you on this.
Will anything else be affected, like my telecare?
The switch to digital landlines may affect telecare devices and other equipment such as personal alarms and security alarms if they're connected to your phone line.
Although your telephone service provider will contact you before the switch takes place, you may want to let them know about any telecare devices that you have in advance. It's also a good idea to contact the supplier of your telecare device to check that this will work with the new system or whether any equipment will need to be upgraded.
If you're buying a new device that's linked to the phone system, you should also check with the seller or manufacturer that this will be compatible.
What if I don’t have, or don’t want, the internet at home?
If you already have a broadband connection, for example to connect to the internet, then the new digital landline system will use this.
If you don't have a broadband connection, your provider will supply one specifically to support the new digital system, but you shouldn't pay extra for this if you don't move over to a broadband service.
Will my new phone contract be more expensive?
BT has committed to not raise prices above inflation for 'voice only' customers until 2026. 'Voice only' customers are those who don't have home broadband. Virgin Media has also said that people won't pay more than what they already pay for their current service.
This means that you shouldn’t face extra costs if you need a new simple internet connection to make calls.
What happens if there's a power cut?
Unlike some traditional corded analogue phones, a digital phone will only work in a power cut if it has a battery back-up, because it'll run using your home electricity. In these instances, phone companies are advising people to use mobile phones as a backup.
If you're dependent on your landline phone – for example, if you don’t have a mobile phone or you live somewhere where there’s no or poor mobile signal, then your telephone provider must offer you a 'resilience solution' to make sure you can make emergency calls during a power cut. This could be a mobile phone (if you have mobile signal) or a battery-backup unit for your landline phone.
This resilience solution should be provided free of charge to people who are dependent on their landline. If you're not eligible for a free resilience solution, you may be able to purchase one from your provider or another retailer – talk to your provider about the options available to you.
Is there anything I should watch out for?
As the switchover is affecting millions of homes, this can create an opportunity for criminals to develop new scams. These scam attempts could happen over the phone, via email, or in person on your doorstep.
Remember the following scam advice when someone's contacting you about the switchover:
STOP – take a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or your personal information.
CHALLENGE – could it be fake? It's OK to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. You should never feel rushed or pressured into making a decision.
PROTECT – contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve been a victim of a scam and report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040.
Other unscrupulous people may also try to sell you equipment or get you to sign up to expensive contracts that you don’t need. In these cases, it's important that you don't rush into making any decisions. You can always seek a second opinion and speak to your phone company – they should be able to advise you about what you need.
This information is taken directly from Age UK website at www.ageuk.org,uk
Update January 2024
The rollout has been temporarily paused due to issues with personal alarms etc.