Phones are Changing

Andrew Rowland | 1 Mar 2022 | 0 comments

‘The times they are a-changing’ sang Bob Dylan. Already TV has gone digital, and radio is very slowly following. But until now, the oldest electronic communication technology of them all has resisted the winds of change – landline telephones. Truly a 19th century invention, the analogue phone is a simple and robust device. It manages to work even over ancient and messy wiring, it keeps going during power cuts – power is supplied by the exchange – and you can purchase a perfectly good one for only a tenner.

Sure, the plain old telephone system (POTS – it even has an acronym¹) has evolved. Operators were (mostly) replaced by electro-mechanical exchanges, which in turn were replaced by electronic ones during the 1980s, eliminating the problem where you would get connected to the wrong number because of a sticky actuator somewhere. From the late 1960s, exchanges were connected to each other by digital links, meaning long distance calls became as clear as local ones. And services like caller display, voicemail and three-way calls were introduced. But the main limitations remain: sound quality is poor, worse even than AM radio, and it only supports one call at a time. Even if you have multiple extensions and phones in the house, no-one can ring in or out until your daughter concludes her hour-long conversation with her schoolfriend.

Nevertheless, it may surprise you to learn that POTS is going to be switched off in 2025, and traditional phone equipment will no longer be sold in about a year’s time. Yes, landlines will go dead, and that wired phone I carry around with me for testing whether customers can get a dialling tone might as well go in the bin. It’s had a good run since Alexander Bell’s first phone conversation in 1876, but with more calls made by mobile than landline today, it’s time to move on.

Of course, it will be more of a switchover than switch off, and like when TVs went digital, you can convert your old phone using an adapter.

What POTS will be replaced with is simply broadband. Voice calls will be wholly digital. This is not a new technology: many businesses use Voice over IP (VoIP) internally already. If you don’t have broadband when the time comes, your phone company will migrate you to ‘narrow broadband’ (at the same cost as before), so you needn’t worry. And Internet Service Providers are already getting ready by issuing hubs with a phone socket and an internal converter, so at switchover, all you need do is plug your phone into the hub rather than the wall. Some simple changes are needed if you have extensions. Some ISPs are even issuing hubs with built-in DECT so it connects to wireless handsets. So all in all, for most consumers it will be a minor event. Expect some messaging from your phone company nearer the date.

The problem for the industry is all the other things that hang off POTS: burglar and fire alarms, panic button pendants etc. (not to mention traffic lights, bus stop indicators, emergency phones in lifts and shop tills). But don’t let anyone try to sell you a whole new system, as an adapter is all that will be needed. ISPs should provide battery-backed equipment to such customers so it works even during power cuts.

More information from OfCOM

Missing out on a broadband saving?

Millions of households are paying £144 a year more than they need to, or missing out on broadband altogether. If you receive Universal Credit, Pension Credit, ESA or JSA (additional criteria apply), you could get broadband from only £10 a month. A list of companies offering these special tariffs is at Be aware that they do not include landline (there are also social tariffs for that), which you may need if you have a ‘panic button’, and you should check whether you are still in contract.

UPDATE: Sky has also started to offer an affordable broadband package: It is only open to existing Sky customers and only lasts 18 months before reverting to standard rates.

For the rest of us, there are useful money-saving tips here: And look at your bills. I recently saved a customer nearly half hers by pointing out she was paying for all her calls, while £5 extra would include them for free.

[1] Officially, it is called the public switched telephone network (PSTN)
© Andrew Rowland 2022

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