Openreach starts consulting industry on 2025 switch to digital phone lines
Openreach is consulting on the forthcoming changes as the existing aging PSTN infrastructure is set to be retired by 2025 with telephone services shifting to delivery over a Voice over IP infrastructure.
The consultation is aimed at the 600 communication providers that Openreach support and lets be clear this is not about ripping out the copper pairs to run to millions of premises in the UK, the new digital voice service will work over either copper or fibre. The consultation is running until 27th July 2018 and there are four launch events during May for industry to meet with Openreach to give more information and allow for interactive questioning.
The current way telephone lines are deployed is that they are voice first but with the plans under lines will be broadband first with the voice being an additional service over the top, hence products already in trail stage such as SoGEA (which break the link with traditional analogue voice products) and one of the things that is part of the consultation is a Single Order Transitional Access Product (SOTAP) which is intended to be a broadband service with no reliance on the existing PSTN platform and will support digital voice.
Moving to a VoIP style voice service is something that many have already done, to do this en-masse is a very different proposition and with a service now reliant on a power supply beyond backup batteries at an exchange or in a cabinet. The mobile phone has changed the landscape for emergency call support during power outages but it looks likely we may see options for battery backup units not unlike what Openreach currently does with its Fibre Voice Access service over FTTP i.e. a pack of AA batteries that keep only the voice side running during a power cut.
The shift to a broadband first policy will mean that given the existing telephone USO that there may be extra work needed to push broadband up to a baseline that will support the voice service over the broadband element. VoIP itself can survive with a wide range bandwidths and certainly can easily run within a symmetric 64 Kbps, those saying VoIP needs 1 Mbps or more are using much higher quality codecs or have things set up wrong, so as long as something broadband is available the voice is possible. Of course the broadband USO is going to have an impact here, but exactly what depends on what actual implementation the broadband USO takes which is something we are all waiting on from Ofcom.
What of the full LLU providers (MPF)? Well as they are fully unbundled they are not part of this, i.e. what they do with the copper pair is up to them, but if broadband first is popular and providers embrace the potential of an all IP voice service those operators who stick with the old style phone dial tone may be as relevant as a shop selling red flags to people walking in front of cars.
Lots of people are going to have lots of questions, and feel free to raise them in the comments section. We hope to be able to make one of the launch events as an industry group and therefore potentially raise some of those issues.