BT has suspended the rollout of its new digital voice platform after some customers were left unable to make calls to family members and emergency services during recent power cuts. In recent months, BT has been upgrading millions from traditional copper landline connections to its new Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) technology, which relies on fibre broadband to work. With homes across the UK slowly getting access to the internet via these new fibre-optic cables, BT doesn’t want the pain (or expense) of maintaining older copper lines at the same time as installing this new technology. Following an upgrade to the latest broadband connection, which unlocks download speeds of up to 1,000Mbps, customers are automatically switched over to phone calls via the internet.
However, this update has caused some serious issues, which were highlighted during the recent storms that swept across the UK. The thunderous weather and high winds from Storms Arwen and Eunice left rural areas without power for days, which resulted in home broadband connections staying offline due to home routers needing power to work.
Without a connection to the web, VoIP technology becomes useless. As such, users were left unable to keep in touch with loved ones or make calls to emergency services. During a storm, that’s a serious problem.
As you might be aware, older analogue landline systems are powered remotely – so even if the electricity supply is cut off to the home, the line stays live. If you have a wireless landline handset, which can hold its own charge, then you’ll be able to continue making calls from the home phone during a storm or power cut.
The severe weather that has ravaged the UK in recent weeks has highlighted the problem with switching to VoIP. And now, BT itself has admitted to customers that it “went too early” with the rollout of the Digital Voice handsets to replace traditional landlines.
The telecoms giant has apologised to those affected and promised that it will work hard on rolling out improved back-up solutions – ready for whenever things go wrong in the future. If you live in an area with good mobile reception and have a charged mobile phone, it’s possible to make emergency calls. If there’s no mobile reception in your area… or you don’t own a mobile phone, you’re stuck.
In a statement about the problems that impacted landline owners, CEO of BT Consumer, Mark Allera said: “We underestimated the disruptive impact this upgrade would have on some of our customers. With hindsight we went too early, before many customers – particularly those who rely more heavily on landlines – understood why this change is necessary and what they needed to do.
“We also recognise we have more work to do on getting better back-up solutions in place for when things disrupt the service like storms and power cuts. We got this part of our programme wrong and for that, we’re sorry.
“The huge disruption caused by recent Storms Arwen and Eunice brought this into sharper focus, when people – including many of our customers in rural areas – needed to get in touch with loved ones during power outages.
“While many lines were cut in those storms, including the older phone lines, as well as power lines – we do recognise that for some customers, making calls would not have been possible with a broadband-only connection.”