back to article BT Wholesale wants the channel to give SMBs a nudge before copper sunset in 2025

Small businesses in the UK are still woefully unprepared for the 2025 PSTN switch-off, when the plug will be pulled on the copper phone network. That's according to Gavin Jones, channel sales director at BT Wholesale, who made the comments as the division unveiled two new packages it hopes will boost fibre take-up and its own …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lack of Coherence by BT

    I am aware that in the late 2000's that BT were pushing for the cessation/removal of equipment in exchanges providing legacy services, and yet they had nothing to replace it. The people up high, did not even consider the requirement that they must provide alternatives to help the migration to 21CN and keep customers.

  2. jollyboyspecial

    That 2025 target is already slipping. It doesn't seem that long ago that the promise was that all premises would be full fibre. Then Openreach admitted that it was only going to be PSTN and ADSL that would be switched off. So copper to the premises will still be a thing long after 2025. Plenty of premises will be on VDSL G.Fast or FTTC as Openreach term it without any apparent sense of irony.

    What is G.Fast really for? Well that's allegedy up to 1Gbps over copper so as long as they get one customer on a full gig over that technology they can claim that they met their promise of getting every premises on 1Gbps *capable* technology by 2025.

    Full fibre to the premises is going to hit a bit of a wall. As it stands Openreach are putting in fibre all over the country, but in order to meet the short timescales they are only putting it overhead. Any premises with an underground d-side are only going to get FTTC services.

    As such Openreach are still going to be relying heavilly on large sections of the existing copper (and in some places aluminium) network for many years to come.

    BT and Openreach may insist that they are on target but I don't believe they are. There are a lot of commercial premises out there still on DSL even if they are online. I know I look after quite a lot of them. A lot of retail sites rely on a network connection for little more than card payments. These are exactly the premises that have no availability of FTTP or FTTC services yet. Worse still a lot of these premises do not have a decent mobile signal to speak of.

    And that's where the plan to switch off PSTN is potentially a bad one. Whether you're talking FTTP or FTTC you need mains power to run the necessary router, modem, ONT or whatever that will be needed to connect a phone, even an old school PSTN one. So you'll need mains power to make a phone call. So what do you do in an emergency when you don't have mains power? Pick up your mobile? Sounds good doesn't it? Unfortunately the mobile networks are lying to us about coverage. My own house has zero signal indoors and a very patchy signal outdoors. I was recently staying in a house with no signal at all unless you were willing to take a walk. So imagine the situation of a power outage and a medical emergency. That might sound like a perfect storm of bad fortune, but when you think about it that's no so unusual. In unexpected darkness trips and falls are much more likely than under the glare of electric lighting. Power outages are more common in rural settings as indeed are mobile not spots* So there you are on the floor in the dark you crawl to the phone and find there's no dial tone. So you whip out your mobile out of your pocket because you're used to being able to make calls at home due to the wonder of wifi calling but there's no signal. So then you have to wait there at the bottom of the stairs with your compound fracture waiting for the power to come back on so you can phone for an ambulance.

    I don't, however, blame BT or Openreach for any of this. This is a target that was set for them by Ofcom and the government a decade ago.

    *Another thing about being out in the sticks on Openreach's wonderful new network is that there's a good likelyhood you'll be on copper over a mile from the nearest DSLM with VDSL sync speeds that make current 20 year old ADSL speeds look impressive

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      That 2025 target is already slipping.

      No it isn't. You have misunderstand what is being talked about here. What BT are going to do is switch off their analogue service. That's all. They could probably do that tomorrow if they wanted to but they are holding off to give time for people to switch to a VoIP alternative.

      It doesn't seem that long ago that the promise was that all premises would be full fibre. Then Openreach admitted that it was only going to be PSTN and ADSL that would be switched off. So copper to the premises will still be a thing long after 2025. Plenty of premises will be on VDSL G.Fast or FTTC as Openreach term it without any apparent sense of irony.

      This has nothing to do with the physical media. Yes there will still be copper lines in use after 2025 but they will only be carrying digital services.

      BT has already said that very low rate DSL will be available for those who only want to use their line for voice. There are very few properties whose lines are unable to sustain a 128Mb/s DSL connection and that's all you need for VoIP. None possibly, given the DSL extension technology BT trialled several years ago.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "They could probably do that tomorrow if they wanted to but they are holding off to give time for people to switch to a VoIP alternative."

        Unless they can find a way to power VoIP over the line they don't have an alternative. One of the characteristics of the analogue service is that it continues to work when the lights go out. Discovering that the backup battery has died when the lights go out should not be an option.

        1. John Miles

          RE: Discovering that the backup battery has died

          You don't even get a backup battery now and the Nokia ONT I have installed doesn't have a Phone port, which I believe is main BT installs now and the Phone plugs into the SuperHub (or FritzBox used by Zen) so when the power goes you need a UPS covering two or more devices

      2. Captain Hogwash

        Re: unable to sustain a 128Mb/s DSL connection

        Did you mean Kb/s?

    2. Richard Jones 1

      Was That My Home You Wrote About?

      Near zero mobile connectivity, check.

      Uncertain other connections other than pseudo fibre, reality some wire or wires strung together to a cabinet, check.

      User none the wiser as to what when or whether other than 'not known yet governor' from the network provider, check.

      I can see the buildings of central London from my local roads, so hardly out in the bush.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "without any apparent sense of irony"

      Not a problem. One of the requirements for working in BT is the ability to suspend disbelief (or alternatively, to suppress disgust - I failed at both).

  3. Warm Braw

    The reality is that it's happening now

    The reality is that it isn't.

    Around three months ago, I recounted the tale of a relative struggling to get FTTP installed and being thwarted by the suspect safety of a single pole that had recently been climbed by contractors. Most of the intervening time has consisted of further contractors being booked to remove a small amount of vegetation to enable a closer inspection of the said pole and the said contractors not appearing. The current position is that a "meaningful" status update might be forthcoming in 4 weeks. Whatever that means.

    And since no end-user is a client of OpenReach, no-one awaiting an installation can speak to them, even to explain that the supposedly-complete job has not been done, and no-one can complain to them. And, of course, neither, directly, can BT - Chinese walls.

    BT's clients can't be ready for 2025 if BT can't actually connect them even when an order has been accepted - and, frankly, it seems institutionally incompetent to do so.

    It's all very well hailing their success of their hollow-core fibre trials, but it's no compensation for the hollow core at the heart of its service delivery.

    It's now an interesting question as to whether 5G will arrive before the issue is resolved: it's going to be close.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: The reality is that it's happening now

      Yet another misunderstanding what is being talked about here. It has nothing to do with the physical connection. It's purely the cessation of analogue services.

      It just means that over the next four(ish) years everyone is going to have to switch to a VoIP solution. Whether that's VoiP over copper, fibre or pigeon is irrelevant.

      1. Warm Braw

        Re: The reality is that it's happening now

        It has nothing to do with the physical connection

        It does when the existing physical connection is incapable of delivering a digital service of any kind. The end of analogue voice would in this location mean the end of voice.

        1. Tridac

          Re: The reality is that it's happening now

          Have bt business, fixed ip and a pots line which works well, but no pots socket on the router, which seems an obvious thing to do for a seamless transition. Let BT worry about how that gets integrated into their digital system. Should not have to worry about anything voip, just expect pots it to plug in and play...

          1. Lon24

            Re: The reality is that it's happening now

            My router does have a POTS socket. It also does VOIP over the LAN. But I have more than one POTS device to plug into it - including the alarm system which is an issue I haven't sorted. If ADT do offer a digital solution it will cost. And when there is a power cut its Christmas for any burglars.

            I.m thinking of investing in the small UPS market. Or filling a warehouse with 'em come 2024 ;-)

            1. Tridac

              Re: The reality is that it's happening now

              I had a small apc smart ups which used a 7ah 12v battery, but fitted an connector and run that to a 28ah battery externally.The router and a couple of switches are probably not more than a dozen watts / va, so should keeo the system up for at least 10 hours. Greatest power cut we have had here in decades is about 4 hours, once, so should be ok so long as the street cabinet stays powered up. Lab has it's own ups, good for few hours, which should cover it.

              It may indeed be a problem for emergency service access, even though most have at least on mobile these days. I wonder if BT have thought much about that, or even at all ?...

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The reality is that it's happening now

            That sounds like an ideal solution - just modify the router to include a POTS socket and end users/businesses can plug their existing kit into the router.

            Only issue then will be if the power goes off, the router will die as will the POTS connectivity. So, maybe design the router to include a "small-ish" rechargeable battery to power the router to ensure the POTS line is still active. (Unless of course the master socket will still supply the voltage for the router/POTS interface).

            If we can go from analogue 625-line TV to "digital TV" by way of plug-in adaptors (betwixt aerial socket and old style analogue TV) then I'm sure someone can design combination router/POTS hardware to resolve this...

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge

              Re: The reality is that it's happening now

              There is of course a subtle difference between the needs of a home and the needs of a business. At home, a router with a POTS socket such as the FRITZ!Box or Draytek Vigor is just fine, and you can wire up extension sockets in the normal way.

              For a business which is still analogue, what they will have is several individual lines coming into a Private Branch Exchange, and maybe also some dedicated POTS lines for fire or burglar alarms. Larger businesses may have their PBXes connected to the PSTN over ISDN, though BT has been withdrawing ISDN for some years now.

              Multiple POTS or ISDN lines are not easily replicated by "consumer" routers. For a start, it is a requirement that all PBXes have "fail through", where select extensions are connected directly to incoming exchange lines on a power failure, so that calls can still be made, and for another thing it would require as many independent POTS sockets on the router as the existing PBX has connections.

              The two routers I mentioned - neither of which is at the "cheap" end of the market - don't do this. The Draytek has two independent POTS ports while the FRITZ!Box also has two, plus an emulated ISDN socket and a built-in DECT base station, which provides some of the features of a PBX. This is about as good as it gets with consumer routers.

              In the absence of routers with multiple POTS ports and PBX functions, you'll be needing an external adapter. Such things do exist but I've struggled to find a UK-based company specialising in them.

              As for power cuts (and we get quite a lot around here), the only real answer is a UPS, especially now that BT has apparently stopped supplying battery backup for their kit!


        2. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: The reality is that it's happening now

          It does when the existing physical connection is incapable of delivering a digital service of any kind. The end of analogue voice would in this location mean the end of voice.

          What a shame they've got rid of ISDN. 2x64kbps symmetrical over basically any POTS line.


  4. vogon00

    Cellular are the winners?

    Having been involved with 21CN from it's inception in a previous life, I am severely disappointed with the result.

    It's all very well having the latest shiny ultra-mega-top-notch-core IP network for business & residential customers (Hint : BT/Openreach do not), but if you cannot deliver traffic to businesses and residential users at scale and with reliability, what is the point?

    IMHO, the largest issue OR faces is the wired (Cu/Al or whatever) 'metallic path' used to serve the last mile to customers. This has always been the hurdle to jump over and I think it'll get worse as time goes on, since without significant investment in the wired network things will deteriorate as the infrastructure ages further. I for one would prefer NOT to rely on something as old, creaky and poorly maintained as the OR wired network. OR:Sort out your aging wired network - your business depends on it.

    You can be as clever and innovative as you like as a business, but unless you can get your product into the customers premises reliably there is not a lot of point. BT already offer an xDSL router/service with an integrated 'backup' cellular WAN, waiting for the inevitable xDSL outage - if that isn't an admission of failure, then what is?

    I'm already seriously considering switching from an unreliable xDSL WAN with a piss-poor upstream speed to a cellular WAN, but only because (a) it suits my data service use-case, (b) it does what I need (I don't do anything speed or latency-sensitive), it can come in cheaper in the long run (No 2W Line rental component) among other things.

    I'll be first in the queue to trial an above-6Ghz PTP and always on 5G service if and when it arrives. And no, I'm not considering Starlink - I've yet to hear a convincing argument strong enough.

    Has anyone else out there already 'cut the 2W cord' (assuming they had one in the first place!) ?

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: Cellular are the winners?

      I've been saying for decades that wireless is the future.

      1 day you'll go to Tesco's and buy a laptop with no ethernet port that has an amount (months) of cellular bandwidth in the purchase price, you'll attach to your cellular plan and that'll be it. No mucking about with home broadband or wifi passwords.

      It's why fixed line phone companies (ok BT & VM) have been busy buying mobile carriers, VM had to hook up with O2, yes Telefonica wanted a buyer but VM would have been in trouble had they not hooked up.

      5G is already quicker than most wired broadband right now.

      look at the reality, I've already got ~50 devices in my home on wifi (tv's x 3, games consoles x2, washing machine, dish washer, lights x 5, thermostat x 2, phones x 2, tablets x 4, car, printers x 2, laptops x 4, sky boxes x 3, smart speakers x 5, cctv, smart cameras x 2, watches x 2, kids toys x 4, kindle, DVD player, av systems x 2, Garmin, that's actually just 49 off the top of my head all on 1 apple airport express timecapsule & yes I get 4k streaming everywhere even in at the edge of the garden )

      the point is not many people actually connect their devices via a wire to their broadband.

      My ageing iPhone X used to get 70/70 mb/s between 7am and 7pm on 3 in the worst wifi reception spot in the house which was more than my 50/x mb/s on VM I was getting at the time, 3 has gone to pot recently and is now more like 20/30 mb/s now while I get 200/20 mb/s (I got a stupid deal for £25 pm, now £33 pm) on vm.

      I'd happily trade my 200/20 mb/s for a 100/100 mb/s.

      a test on her iPhone 12 max on 3 5g delivered 500/400 mb/s while driving which is more than enough for all our households needs.

      in a few years we won't be worrying about a fixed connection to our homes.

      Remember all those claims about 5G masts in lamp posts

      1. Captain Hogwash

        Re: No mucking about with home broadband or wifi passwords

        How will your local devices talk to each other? You intend making them all internet facing?

      2. Boothy

        Re: Cellular are the winners?

        Quote: "the point is not many people actually connect their devices via a wire to their broadband."

        Not sure I agree with that statement.

        Personally, the only devices I have that routinely use Wi-Fi is my phone and a Tablet. Everything else, TV, games consoles, PC (personal Desktop + company Laptop), Sky box, R-Pi, NAS etc all connect via Ethernet. I have no 'smart' devices other than the TV, and no intention of getting any others.

        My parents place is the same, just a tablet over Wi-Fi (feature not smart phone), everything else such as TV, set top box, laptop, plugged in. Most of my friends have done similar, with more than one running Ethernet to each room, and one recently moving into a new built house, where he had Cat-6 installed throughout the house while being constructed.

        The only people I can think of personally, that don't use Ethernet, are basically light users, where they've typically just got a smart TV not close to the router, plus a phone and perhaps a tablet.

        Every gaming friend of mine, who have either consoles, a gaming PC, or both, all use Ethernet, as wireless adds latency, especially if there are other people using the Wi-Fi at the same time.

        For me, Ethernet is simple far more reliable and faster (both throughput and latency) than wireless, granted you need to run the cables, but once done, that's basically it for the life of the house.

        1. vogon00

          Re: Cellular are the winners?

          Quote: "the point is not many people actually connect their devices via a wire to their broadband.". I don't agree with it either...but I guess it depends on the 'use case', the expectations, and the establishment.

          I have some friends who are happy with the whole-home Wi-Fi lash-up I did for them as none of their I-things or Android things actually talk with each other on the local network, although I insisted they disconnect the smart TV from Wi-Fi and went Ethernet in that case...

          I come across people who try running their SMB using an 'all wi-fi' method....and usually find 'Bill down the road does our server stuff....if he left the server connected via Wi-Fi that's good enough for us'...and are stunned when adding 1 cable speeds their entire business up...

          As for me, during the last home renovation I ran at least two Ethernet cables to each room, and two to each wallplate if there was going to be a TV nearby. all terminating on a patch panel next to the switching fabric in the loft space. I move a LOT of data around internally (VMs, streaming media etc.) and wouldn't put up with 'slow wi-fi' the way some people do. Sooo much nicer to have 1Gbit or better where it's needed. That said, I had the opportunity and knowledge to avoid the 'all wi-fi' route despite it being the low-cost and convenient solution.

          My point here is that non-enterprise-people's network architecture suits their use-case, lifestyle, budget and knowledge.

      3. Bond007

        Re: Cellular are the winners?

        Not ANOTHER wireless fanatic!

        Wireless may be catching up speed wise, but it'll never be as reliable as a wired connection.

        It's also far easier to troubleshoot a wired connection than it is a wireless one.

        Wireless may be here to stay, but I don't see it being the future.

  5. TKW

    Can someone tell me where I can buy a competitively-priced naked [A|V]DSL service? Preferably with a static IPV4 address.

    1. plunet

      South Korea?

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Can someone tell me where I can buy a competitively-priced naked [A|V]DSL service? Preferably with a static IPV4 address.

      The standard answer in this parish seems to be Andrews and Arnold, but I have never been a customer so can't comment further.

      (I did once talk to them, but as moving to them for broadband would - for "reasons" - involve losing our telephone number and that would be inconvenient, we decided against it, at least for now)


      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        I use A&A in two places and am very happy with them I was able to port two phone numbers to their VOIP service, but I understand that some cannot be ported. Unlike BT, A&A pointed out that when fibre reached my house there was no need to pay line rental for a copper phone line if I went VOIP; as a result my combined data+phone bill is generally about £15/month less than it was with the phone Co-Op.

        One minor oddity. My house is FTTP with a 1Gbps connection of which I pay for 80Mbps. The other connection I have is FTTC, also nominally 80Mbps but in practice about twice the speed and far more reliable. Maybe a big city vs countryside thing.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          We're with the Phone Co-Op at the moment, and it was this that caused the issue with the number porting. TPC has (on our exchange) signed a deal with the devil and uses TalkTalk rather than OpenReach. Because of the way TT is unbundled, if A&A were to take over the line we would lose the number. At present I'm looking at a slightly more conventional approach - maybe Zen* - and we will definitely be keeping our Copper landline until they physically yank the line card out of the exchange.

          We're sort of semi-rural here, a small hamlet fed by a single pole-mounted transformer which is itself fed by largely overhead wires from a substation on the opposite side of the valley. We get many small (under a minute, but often repeated) power cuts most years, and the occasional long one every two or three years. The last of these was last Christmas when we were without power for about six hours IIRC, and then on generator for a couple of days while they did a lot of tree-pruning and replaced quite a lot of the overhead cables and at least one pole, most of which is in the middle of sheep-infested bog :-)

          Is it any wonder I have three UPSes and a good stock of torches?


          *we've actually been very happy with the service we get from TPC over the years, but when looking to upgrade to FTTC (there's no FTTP around here) they're not terribly competitive

  6. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Dear Mr OpenReavh...

    You said "there's still a staggering number of small businesses in the UK who are still using legacy lines"

    So, why don't you know who your POTS/analogue customers are? Why do you need the government to pay for an "awareness campaign" when you already know exactly which customers have which type of service? Can't you just send them all a leaflet yourself?

    1. demonwarcat

      Re: Dear Mr OpenReavh...

      They do know who has a current analogue line. They don't know what devices you have connected to it and if any will react poorly to being connected to a VOIP service. BT's Smarthub 2 has a POTS socket. I have just been migrated and for many people it will simply be a case of plugging their main phone into this. Things become more complicated if you have existing wired extensions as voice reinjection is not being offered. You can claim a free phone or voice adapter from BT where you can't just plug your phone in. Power fail is only being poorly addressed. BT will sell you a UPS to power hub and ONT. On the face of it this does not comply with OFCOM's stated policy. I understand some ISPs are providing battery backup at no charge.

    2. Commswonk

      Re: Dear Mr OpenReach...

      there's still a staggering number of small businesses in the UK who are still using legacy lines

      And what about residential subscribers, the (vast?) majority of whom will have no idea what is coming down the line? AFAIK BT has not started to generate any widespread publicity to advise domestic customers of the changes that are ahead.

      I hope I am wrong but it could all get very messy when BT actually set about converting the country, presumeably exchange area by exchange area. I would expect most customers will require a measure of direct support from BT / Openreach personnel; do they have sufficient boots on the ground to provide a prompt and effective support service to those who need it?

      Have they carried out a trial in any area to find out exactly what is likely to be required when the rollout proper gets going? Or - heaven help us - has the determination of the degree of support required been based on a purely desk - top exercise?

      demonwarcat wrote: BT's Smarthub 2 has a POTS socket. Interesting... back in 2005 when we dragged Commswonk Towers into the 21st century our (ADSL) hub had a POTS socket; when we migrated to VDSL the replacement hub didn't. When I replaced the hub with a Smarthub (in the hope of improving wifi coverage... successfully) it came without a POTS socket either, which doesn't look much like future - proofing it.

      I am of the opinion that everything could go terribly wrong terribly quickly. 2025 is not that far off, considering the total number of subscribers to be managed.

      As stated above... I hope I am wrong.

      1. Tridac

        Re: Dear Mr OpenReach...

        Only problem with providing a pots socket in the router is that it will need a 50 volt supply for the line and also a 13Hz, whatever ring generator, if older style bell ring phones are to be supported Just an engineering problem, but will need a bigger wall wart to power it. Perhaps that's why they haven't done it already ?...

        1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

          Re: Dear Mr OpenReach...

          No big problem with the ubiquity of cheap and simple switch mode converters.

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