So Openreach have announced the end of its PSTN, stating that all of its WLR products will be withdrawn by December 2025. Over 16 million lines delivering analogue voice and broadband communications for home and business are to be replaced in a national transition to Internet Protocol (IP) networks. This all sounds very exciting, but we’re sure you’re wondering what on earth we’re talking about - and what does it have to do with VoIP? What is VoIP?
We’re almost as lost as you are. Well, no. In fact, we know exactly what’s going on, but we sympathise. We’re here to tell you in plain English everything you need to know about VoIP, why it matters, and what effect it will have on you.
What is VoIP?
Basically, what we’re talking about here is phone networks. Traditional phone networks, or Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTNs), have for decades given us access to Wholesale Line Rental (WLR) products and connected us to each other through copper wires.
Over the last decade or so, however, network providers have been gradually moving customers over to a newer, digital technology known as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Instead of relying on copper phone wires, which for many reasons are proving to be a bit dated, basically what VoIP does is carry calls over a broadband connection.
From your perspective, what this offers is clearer phone calls and a potential end to expensive packages and charges for long distance calls, but the reasons for upgrading don’t end there…
From a provider’s perspective, switching from older copper wires to fibre optic broadband cables makes sense in the long run as they are:
- Not susceptible to theft
- Easier to maintain
All of these factors have led to Openreach’s announcement that it is withdrawing all of its WLR products by December 2025. This, as we’ve said, will mean the replacement of over 16 million phone lines across the country. It is no small undertaking, but for some of us will mean a little more than a simple improvement in service - let’s get into that now:
VoIP phones: how will it affect me?
The difference between VoIP services for home phones and a traditional phone connection is slight, and it’s best understood if we just show you:
As you can see, switching to VoIP will mean an end to having one wire for your phone and another for your router. With VoIP your phone would connect directly to your router - meaning that, yes (we read your mind), when your internet goes down you won’t be able to make calls either.
We see this as the main drawback of the switch to VoIP, but it may not all be doom and gloom. With many businesses having already made the switch, the problems with VoIP have largely begun to be addressed:
A common way businesses keep telephone services active when their internet connection goes down is through ‘built-in redundancy’ and ‘call continuity’ systems. Also known as mobile-ready VoIP, this allows them to connect to their VoIP through their mobile phones. In short, when your internet goes down you can have calls redirected to your mobile, so you never actually miss a call because your internet has gone down.
This would be great news for the vast majority of people, but not for the few who have no mobile device to fall back on. According to Ofcom, around 4% of adults in the UK still live in a home with a landline and no mobile phone - these people will be left all at sea when their broadband falters.
How the switch from traditional phone lines will affect your phone bills in the long run remains unclear. As it stands, however, a number of apps allow you to bypass phone bills and international charges altogether using VoIP, which will be welcomed by anyone looking to ditch their calls package. To keep a landline number, though, you will have to be signed up to on a standard calls package with a provider.
VoIP providers: can I get it now?
In short, yes. You’ve probably already used VoIP services - applications like Skype and Vonage have been using it for years and, as we’ve said, many businesses have already switched their own networks over to it. As an alternative to home phone, VoIP is in its infancy but is already available, and you’ll be hearing more and more about it following Openreach’s announcement.
In addition to Openreach, which operates the network that most suppliers use, Virgin (which operates the only other major network) have made a similar commitment to move customers over to a VoIP service. For the time being switching will be left up to the customer as a voluntary option, but as we approach the 2025 deadline you will see providers nudge you towards it more and more.
One thing is now certain: at some point within the next 6 or 7 years an engineer will be paying you a visit to help you make the switch. Worried? Don’t be. Let’s take a look at the ways you can keep making calls when the fateful day arrives...
What you'll need:
- A VoIP adapter
- A compatible phone
- A compatible router
With these you will be able to connect your landline phone to your router and make calls in just about the same way you’ve always done. There are, of course, other ways you can call using VoIP, and these generally don’t require a phone number or cost you any money! Let’s take a look at them:
For calling via your computer:
- A desktop or laptop computer
- The right software
- A headset/speakers
- A microphone
For calling via mobile:
- A mobile phone
- One of many VoIP apps, like Skype or Viber
On the whole, we don’t think there’s any need to panic about Openreach’s announcement. There are some minor drawbacks to VoIP for now, but the 2025 deadline allows a lot of time for what’s as yet unresolved to be ironed out. For now you’re under no obligation to switch, but when you do here's the good and the bad you'll take with it:
- Clearer, better phone connection
- Cheaper and easier maintenance for network providers, with costs hopefully passed on to consumers
- Saving on long distance calls using VoIP apps on computer or mobile
- Lacks a failsafe for when internet connection is down
- Needs a good, reliable broadband connection