Digital Switchover

What is the digital switchover?

The digital switchover is happening. BT’s infrastructure company, Openreach, plan to switch all UK phone lines from traditional copper (analogue) lines to new fibre optic (digital) lines by 31st January 2027 (this date was originally the end of 2025). The 3G mobile network and ISDN data lines are also being sunsetted to free up bandwidth for 5G mobile.

These changes are necessary because the amount of data we use is increasing and the equipment used to run the copper (PSTN) network is old and becoming more difficult and expensive to maintain.

Digital lines offer clearer calls, fewer faults and greater bandwidth to handle the increasing amount of voice and data traffic we send.

During the switchover, 3 types of lines will be in use.

1) Analogue (copper) phone lines that can also carry ADSL data – slow broadband up to 20mb/s.

2) Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC), “fibre broadband”, with copper to the premises

3) Fibre To The Premises (FTTP) “full fibre”, fully digital to the cabinet and the premises.

The switchover will change how phone lines work, especially where telecare devices are concerned. Prior to the switchover, analogue phone lines would still work during a power cut. During and after the switchover, some devices won’t work without power.

How does this affect “telecare” care alarms that work through the phone line?

When an analogue alarm signal meets a digital line anywhere in the phone network, the data needs to be converted from one format to another for the signal to be carried on and delivered. The conversion is not exact. Some data is lost in the process, and this can lead to First Time Call Failures (FTCFs) i.e. the alarm signal does not reach the monitoring centre first time.

Therefore, connecting analogue equipment to digital lines represents a significant risk that pressing the alarm will not succeed in calling for help.

What can be done?

In February 2024, the government asked the top 8 telecoms providers to sign the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) charter, creating a shared definition of a “vulnerable” customer. Prior to this date, each provider had been using its own definition and some telecare users were being switched and left without a functioning alarm service.

The charter also commits providers to ensuring that vulnerable customers are not involuntarily switched from an analogue line to a digital line without a functioning telecare solution in place. For the providers, this can include supplying a battery backup for an internet router (if the customer has one) or a hybrid phone.

How can we help?

As a telecare provider, and as part of the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, Careline Community Service is committed to safeguarding the welfare of its customers, and that of all telecare users in the borough. Our installers are proactively switching existing customers to digital alarms, where possible, to help mitigate the risks of connecting analogue equipment to digital lines, and any telecare user, health professional, friend, relative or neighbour can contact us for advice.

What should I do?

Progress of the switchover is fluid, subject to change and different telecoms providers are dealing with their customers in different ways, but we recommend that these 4 steps should be taken by all telecare users:

  1. Frequently test your existing alarm by pressing the pendant button, to make sure the calls are going through first time. This is standard advice for all our alarms, but it is even more important during the switchover. 
  2. Speak to your your telecoms provider (BT, Talktalk etc).  Tell them that you are a telecare user and ask how they will be supporting you during the digital switchover. The best way to do this is to contact customer services. This can take some time so be prepared to be put on hold. It’s worth the time investment to help keep you safe.
  3. Consider swapping to a digital alarm to reduce the risk of call failures. Call us to discuss this or to get a quote.
  4. Register with the Priority Service Register (PSR) at your telecoms provider and with your energy company. They each have separate PSRs so you will need to contact each one individually.

Further reading:

Priority Services Registers (OfGem) – get help from your supplier

What you need to know (OfCom)

Digital phone lines (Openreach).

Already been switched?

Despite the PSTN charter agreed in February 2024, some customers with analogue telecare alarms have already been switched to digital lines. If you have an analogue alarm and a digital line, it will continue to work if connected to an internet router as shown in the diagram on the left, but only while the router has power*. In the event of a power cut, the alarm has a backup battery, but routers usually do not, so the alarm will not be able to call our monitoring centre through the router.

To connect your analogue alarm to a router, follow these steps.

Step 1 

Plug your mains adaptor into the nearest available plug socket and into the back of your Careline Alarm.

Step 2 

Plug the supplied telephone lead into the back of the Careline Alarm.

Step 3 

Plug the other end of the telephone lead into the back of your router in the phone port.

Step 4 

Plug your telephone into the adaptor and then into the back of your Careline Alarm.

Step 5 

Test your alarm by pressing your pendant or by pressing the help button on your Careline Alarm. Once connected notify them you are just testing the alarm. These instructions are summarised in this video.

*Ask your telecom provider for a battery backup for your router (home hub), and/or Optical Network Terminal (ONT). They are required to provide one (or two) free of charge with a minimum 1 hour power supply. You should consider changing to a digital alarm which does not need a phone line or a router and has a 40-70 hour internal battery so will work for much longer in the event of a power cut.

© Careline Community Service | Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk