Tom Melhuish 11 min read

Have you heard about the big switch-off?

By 2025, homeowners and businesses across the UK will lose the humble landline. But don’t fret; you’ll still be able to chat for hours on a traditional handset; you’ll just be connected differently. Let’s dive into the big switch-off.


What will happen?

The copper cables that brought traditional call technology to homes and businesses across the UK will be switched for an internet-based connection.

From September 2023, Openreach will no longer let suppliers order any new broadband or phone services that rely on the old copper network.

By December 2025, anyone on the old copper network will need to switch to a fully digital network that operates using voice-over-internet protocol technology (VoIP) that operates over a fibre-based service.

For clarity, this doesn’t involve physically removing all of the UK’s copper cables by 2025 but simply phasing them out from telecommunications. Copper cables may still serve for redundancy, and it is likely fibre optics will not have reached the entirety of the UK territory by the time of the big switch-off.

Those premises without fibre 2025 will be able to use Sessions Initiated Protocol (SIP), which is a workaround for virtual (internet-based) telephony using broadband that relies on copper cables (i.e. ADSL).

Eventually, the entirety of the UK will be connected with fibre optics, while extremely remote locations will be able to use satellite internet like Starlink or OneWeb or a 5G dongle.

But until then, there are still millions of businesses and homes in the UK that rely on traditional landlines that use ISDN, all of which will need to switch.

What is the ISDN?

ISDN stands for Integrated Services Digital Network. It’s a circuit-switched telephone network system that transmits both data and voice over a digital line.

ISDN was introduced in 1986 by BT. It replaced and updated old-fashioned landlines with digital lines and added features that weren’t available with a classic telephone system.

ISDN splits the traditional copper telephone line into multiple digital channels. These channels operate concurrently on a single copper line, allowing multiple phones to make and receive calls simultaneously using one physical line.

Although there have been many upgrades to the copper network, it is fast becoming outdated, especially when it comes to fibre broadband, as ISDN is a much slower and a much lower level internet connection.

Why is the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) being switched off?

As digital communications rapidly grow, the ISDN is unable to manage the increase in activity, speed, and quality that modern businesses currently require. It’s also very expensive to maintain. With the introduction of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and the speed of fibre-based broadband connections, it makes sense to move with the times.

How to ensure your business is not affected by the big switch-off

Now that you understand the basis for the need for change let’s be pragmatic and look at the practical bit.

The big switch-off will only affect your business if you are not already using fibreoptic broadband and/or VoIP for your customer calls.

Here are a few steps that you can take now to future-proof your business:

  1. Upgrade your broadband: Compare full-fibre broadband deals and find one that best suits your needs. Even if you already have FTTP you may find a cheaper price while maintaining the performance needed. Compare business broadband today.
  2. Contract Renewal: Find out when your contract will be renewed. This is important because it’s the best time to negotiate deals with providers, including making the switch to VoIP.
  3. Negotiate: Don’t be tempted to renew your existing contract for convenience! Switching business broadband providers or re-negotiating will save you time and money in the long run.
  4. Upgrade your hardware: Even if installing ISDN remains available, it’s not worth it as you will have to switch again later. The same goes for purchasing cheaper but outdated hardware such as desk phones and phone lines. All you’ll be doing is wasting your money.
  5. Cloud-based telephones: When you are ready to switch, choose a cloud-based telephone service. That will allow you to seamlessly work from anywhere and grow your team and business. You’ll also make a big saving on contracts and phone lines.

Big Switch-off FAQs

Curiously, our explainer leaves out some FAQs that we’ve come across recently:

Can I still order an ISDN landline?

Any home or business could order an ISDN landline up to September 2023, but will be forced to migrate between April and December 2025 in the final phase of ‘the big switch-off’.

Note that there are some areas where these dates may differ.

Will it be illegal to have an ISDN landline after ‘the big switch-off’?

No, it won’t be illegal to have an ISDN landline after ‘the big switch-off’, but it will be unusable as ISDN networks will be retired, so it’s advisable to switch before the final cut-off.

The idea is to replace this outdated technology and focus on more efficient services like VoIP.

Is switching from ISDN to VoIP expensive?

Switching from ISDN to VoIP should in fact result in long-term savings.

There will be initial setup costs due to the necessary change in infrastructure, but VoIP’s ongoing expenses, including local and international calls, are typically lower!

Of course, costs will vary depending on business size and specific needs, but you can enquire with your existing business broadband provider for accurate estimates.

How long does it take to switch between ISDN and VoIP?

The transition period from ISDN to VoIP varies depending on the size and complexity of the business but will typically take a few weeks.

The process involves setting up the VoIP system, porting numbers, and training staff. Once this longer part is done, the actual transition only takes a couple of minutes, and it is even possible to temporarily run both the ISDN and VoIP in parallel to ensure a smooth transition.

Bear in mind that once VoIP is set up, you won’t need to call a technician to come and install a new line, as VoIP operates entirely over a broadband connection.

Is a traditional landline more reliable than VoIP?

This one is a tricky one!

Traditional landlines are arguably more reliable as they are not affected by local power outages or internet connectivity, and the line is almost always crystal clear.

Contrast this with the early days of international Skype calls or even having voice-only Zoom meetings during the pandemic, and it almost makes no sense to phase out traditional landlines.

But just like cars eventually improved to replace horse-drawn carriages, modern VoIP systems have greatly improved in terms of reliability and quality as the underlying fibre optics and even cellular networks have vastly improved.

Backup power solutions and quality internet connections can largely mitigate VoIP’s potential reliability issues, and ultimately, VoIP is the super technology.

What will actually change at home after “the big switch-off”?

The quality of VoIP also depends on the hardware you decide to install.

A full transition would involve replacing traditional analogue telephones with VoIP-enabled phones or adapters. Also, you may need to upgrade your business broadband router if this isn’t up-to-date. Changing these ensures you have the high-speed internet infrastructure in place to support high-quality VoIP calls, which will ultimately pay off in the long run.

However, you may be able to use VoIP by adding adaptors to your existing phones and using SIP technology as a workaround to make virtual internet-based calls on traditional copper cables. This may work for a short while, but ultimately, full-fibre broadband and VoIP are where the future is heading!

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