Hold the line, please: BT digital phone service comes to London

BT has announced plans to roll out its controversial replacement phone service, called Digital Voice, across Greater London during November and December, with a series of public information events planned for Croydon, Sutton, Bromley and Merton.

The events are intended to familiarise Londoners with its new voice-over-internet system which came in for widespread criticism last year when customers were unable to make 999 calls while trapped by storm conditions.

Digital Voice, a replacement for old-style, traditional phone lines, has already been introduced in the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, Northern Ireland and the North West.

“An industry-wide shift from analogue to digital landlines will see BT and many other telecoms operators in the UK provide services over a broadband line, similar to work taking place in many other countries around the world,” BT said in announcing the capital-wide roll-out.

“This once-in-a-generation upgrade to future-proof the UK’s landlines is essential and will replace technology that is fast becoming obsolete,” BT said.

“The landline is here to stay, and for the majority of customers making the switch simply involves plugging your phone into a broadband router instead of into a wall-mounted phone socket, bringing new benefits such as advanced spam call blocking.”

BT, among other telecoms companies, has pledged to equip all homes with digital voice-over-internet phones by 2025.

But BT was forced to halt its roll-out of Digital Voice last year following a backlash from customers.

The rollout sees copper landlines replaced by fibre-optic cables, an upgrade that has been going on across Croydon and south London over the past decade.

When Storms Arwen and Eunice hit parts of rural, northern England last year, customers were unable to call 999 when their power went out as a result of storms cutting off their internet access.

BT was forced to issue apologies, saying it had “underestimated the disruptive impact this upgrade would have”, and that they rolled the technology out “too early”.

“We got this part of our programme wrong and for that, we’re sorry,” said Mark Allera, BT’s chief executive of consumer brands.

Now, BT is bringing forward the service in London. In an announcement issued yesterday, BT said, “Customers in Greater London will be contacted at least four weeks in advance before making the switch, to ensure they are ready to move to Digital Voice.

“For almost all customers, Digital Voice will have no impact on how they use their home phone. They’ll still have the same service, and price plan and bills will stay the same. In addition, more than 99% of phone handsets work with Digital Voice and for those that won’t, BT has a range of handsets that customers can order.

“For almost everyone, moving to Digital Voice will be a simple and free transition with no home installation work required. If you feel you need additional support with the transition or you think you are vulnerable, please do tell us. We will be with you every step of the way.”

BT says that it will not be switching anyone who falls under the below criteria, where it has this information available:

  • Customers with a healthcare pendant
  • Customers who only use landlines
  • Customers with no mobile signal
  • Customers who have disclosed any additional needs

“Customers who fall into any of these categories should contact BT to ensure their data is up to date,” the company says.

Crossed wires: many people’s home phones are compatible with the new internet-based system

Customers over the age of 70 are not initially being proactively switched to Digital Voice. However, since July 2023, BT has been trialling switching customers between 70 to 74 who live in urban areas and are ready to make the switch, that is,  they have the latest broadband hub and are not frequent landline users.

“These trials have gone well to date, with 98% of customers choosing to make the switch,” BT claims.

Upcoming engagement activities in Greater London include:

Public meetings: BT is staging a series of “townhall” meetings this month and in early December “to address customer questions on the ground”.

Customers will be able to speak to BT advisors, test Digital Voice products as well as take part in digital skills training.

One of the townhall meetings is being held in Addiscombe on December 5, at St Mildreds Church, 30 Bingham Road, Croydon, CR0 7EB

Pop-up Events: BT says that it will tour every borough in November and December to “ensure customers across Greater London and surrounding areas can speak to BT staff about the switch and try out the new technology for themselves”.

Among the confirmed dates and locations are:

November 7-8 – Bexley: Broadway Shopping Centre, Broadway, Bexleyheath, DA6 7JN
November 9-10 – Sutton: Dobbies Garden Centre, Woodcote Green, 4a Woodmansterne Lane, Wallington, SM6 0SU
November 21-22 – Bromley: 162 High Street, Bromley, BR1 1HE
November 23-24 – Reigate: Woodhatch Community Centre, Whitebeam Drive, Reigate, RH2 7LS
November 25-26 – Epsom: Tadworth Community Centre, Preston Manor Road, Epsom, Tadworth, KT20 5FB
November 29-30 – Merton: South Mitcham Community Association, Cobham Court, Haslemere Avenue, Mitcham, CR4 3PR

Full information of dates and which boroughs, towns and cities will be hosting BT events will be available on the Digital Voice website: www.bt.com/digital-voice.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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7 Responses to Hold the line, please: BT digital phone service comes to London

  1. Paul Harper says:

    I have been on this system for over a year. Whilst it is much clearer than the copper wire system, there have been a power outage and a broadband outage, where the landline did not work.

    BT talk about using a mobile in those situations, however my O2 has a poor signal in my area.

    • This switchover might be the impetus many people require, Paul, simply to cancel their “landline”.

      Don’t most people these days simply use their personal, mobile phone, wherever they are (provided, of course, they are in an area with a decent signal)?

    • N Macleod says:

      There is a battery backed solution as well, for those that require a digital phone service during a power outage.

      There are also other mobile phone networks to O2 – you may find that EE, Three or Vodaphone offers better service coverage in your area.

  2. This has already happened for Virgin customers like me whose copper landline failed. The helpful engineer explained that Virgin wouldn’t repair the street connection because it wasn’t worth it … for them. Same’s true, I believe, for BT customers. The engineers just plugged our phone into the router and made sure it all worked. No problem then … unless until the power supply is cut off.

  3. Ian Kierans says:

    Broadband fails and fails regularly . Mobiles fail and do so spectacularly sometimes for hours/days. The weather affects mobile signals and broadband.
    So do copper and fibre optic wires to home landlines. Telephone boxes get vandalised.

    So in an emergency there is and never has been a fail safe system of communications. They all have levels of reliability and a good landline is a simpler system easily fixed.

    The real issue here is not that it fails is that many are unable to use the devices and the costs are beyond many families reach.

    The gap is no longer narrow but a gaping chasm.

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