The Complete Guide to BT Openreach Copper Switch Off and its Impact

Published on
October 4, 2021
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Introduction: What is the UK BT Copper Switch off, and Why is it Happening?

By the end of 2025, the UK's analogue network (the PSTN, Public Switched Telephone Network) will be switched off. This means BT's Copper Network will be switched off.

BT copper switch off means copper phone lines that form the foundation of the nation's telecommunications infrastructure will be disconnected.

There's no need to worry about this upgrade, as it will mean faster broadband speeds and higher quality service for the nation. This blog will answer what is the UK's copper switch off, why is it happening and what you need to do to make sure you're not left behind.

BT Copper Switch Off and Openreach Digital Upgrade

Switch off means that over 16 million premises and homes will need to move to alternative technologies over the next four years.

While landline phone use is less common in the UK than ever (source), these copper lines are also responsible for connecting many essential services (covered below) as well as ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network) internet.

Openreach has set a hard date on the BT copper switch off in line with the Government's target to give at least 85% of UK premises access to gigabit-broadband by 2025 (source).

Once enough people are connected to fibre (75% of homes and businesses connected to a particular exchange (source)), a "stop sell" is put in place. Meaning no one will be able to buy copper products or services - giving a significant incentive to move towards fibre.

Why is copper switch off happening? The UK's analogue copper network, which has been in place for over a century, is increasingly expensive to maintain. It also doesn't make sense to run an analogue and digital network simultaneously.

Once the copper is switched off, legacy equipment can be removed from telephone exchanges across the country. This will allow millions of pieces of equipment to be put into the circular economy and reused in countries that need it much more than us.

In the UK, BT's network uses around 0.6% of the UK's energy consumption, so switching off copper could have a significant downstream impact upon carbon emissions (source).

Copper Switch Off Begins

Copper switch off will occur when most customers have been migrated to next-generation technologies. Therefore, some may say the switch off process only begins when Openreach announces a "stop sell" in a region.

Stop sell is the first time a region may find out they are next to move. In August 2021, Openreach announced a further 378 regions where this will occur by August 2022 (source).

These regions are just one wave of the many more to come. Openreach is rolling out fibre at lightning speeds; with the final copper switch-off date being December 2025, expect that your region may be next. 

Be sure to keep your eyes on Openreach's news pages to keep up with the fibre rollout map and schedule to see when copper stop sell is happening in your area.

What Types of Phones and Services are Affected by BT Copper Switch Off 2025?

The types of phones affected by copper switch off include:

  • Copper-based landline phones
  • Red telephone boxes
  • Emergency phones in lifts

In addition to phones and voice services, there are many other services and equipment that you may not even realise rely on copper phone lines and the PSTN. These include:

  • Payment terminals in shops
  • Cash machines
  • House alarms
  • London Underground light signals
  • Traffic lights

One of the remarkable things about the copper network is that it provides backup power to all of the above - meaning they will work even during a power cut.

Once the network is switched off, unless batteries or alternative backup power is provided, they will no longer work during power cuts - potentially putting vulnerable people and CNI (Critical National Infrastructure) at risk.

Therefore, it is essential to identify anything in your business or home that will be affected before the copper network is switched off. Once identified, service providers will be able to take the necessary steps.

Preparing for the Upgrade - Openreach copper switch off FAQs.

RECOVAR attended and submitted questions to one of Openreach's Digital Upgrade Events, covering several topics, including how the UK public and businesses can prepare for the upgrade. 

Given nearly half (46%) of UK firms don't know that existing analogue phone lines will be switched off by 2025 (source), the message must be spread so that no one is left disconnected.

We have summarised some of the Digital Upgrade FAQs below, so you can know what to do next!

Will my analogue phone system work after copper switch off, and how do businesses know if their systems are reliant?

It is essential to determine if your systems are reliant as early as possible - as 2025 will be here sooner than you know it.

This should start with an audit - either yourself or a service provider should create a list of all equipment and services that could be impacted. This list will allow an expert to take the appropriate actions to test and migrate copper-reliant services or equipment onto alternatives such as fibre or mobile networks.

How will Openreach's regional approach to copper switch off impact businesses? 

As highlighted above, Openreach will be taking a region by region approach for copper switch off.

When 75% of the homes and businesses connected to an exchange can access fibre, they won't be able to buy copper products or services. This applies to new and existing customers - whether they're switching or upgrading.

In all cases, Openreach recommends businesses speak to their communications providers to understand the best course of action - particularly for multi-regional firms that may need a more complex plan.

What's the best way to stay up-to-date with the Digital Upgrade, and how can businesses with little online presence keep updated?

Openreach has a Digital phones Line webpage and the Call Waiting List subscription list so any business (or consumer) can find out more about the Digital Upgrade.

Openreach has also created specific fact sheets which focus on sectors such as:

  • Alarm industry
  • Energy industry
  • Lift industry
  • Telecare industry
  • Water industry

The web pages also contain helpful information and links to the websites of the industry bodies and key stakeholders, where you can find more info beyond these sheets. 

Offline businesses must speak to their service provider as it's the company's responsibility to ensure they are ready for the move. So if you're aware of anybody that isn't aware of the Digital Upgrade, be sure you point them in the right direction to get help.

What Happens After the Upgrade? Fibre Rollout Schedule

What happens next depends upon the service you're being provided. For FTTC, you may still be due upgrade works to get you to FTTP.

FTTC is where a fibre connection goes to your local street cabinet, with a copper connection then connecting to a house or business premises (figure 1, below). 

Figure 1: ADSL, FTTC and FTTP showing where copper starts and ends

Don't worry, as even though copper goes to your home with FTTC, only E side copper is switched off in the upgrade, not D side. D side (distribution side) is between the cabinet and the premises, whereas the E side (exchange side) is between the cabinet and the exchange (as shown above).

In simple terms, FTTC will still work after Openreach's Digital Upgrade.

Premises with FTTC may get an FTTP upgrade during Openreach's fibre rollout schedule. Fibre to the premise provides a fibre optic connection from the telephone exchange to your premises, giving you the fastest connection.

Conclusion

While the digital upgrade might seem daunting, it's for the better. 

Fibre broadband rollout has been accelerated by Openreach putting a deadline on copper switch off, meaning faster broadband speeds will be available across the country before you know it.

Faster broadband speeds ultimately unlock economic opportunities, and Openreach only maintaining one network frees up resources to focus on exciting new projects over the coming decades.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with the RECOVAR Team - if we can't answer your query, we'll certainly know someone who can.

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