Telecoms providers announce regional digital upgrades in 2020 – how are housing providers with telecare affected?

By Carl Atkey, Chief Technical Officer, Appello

The switchover from analogue to digital telephony services has reached another milestone as Virgin Media has announced that a set of its customers in Stockport (SK1, SK3, SK4, SK5), London Borough of Camden (NW1, NW5), Exeter (EX2, EX4), Plymouth (PL2, PL6) and Torbay (TQ1, TQ3) will be some of the first to be transitioned across to its new IP Voice service. The trial is starting early 2020 for these specific locations and will conclude later in the year.

This follows trial migrations from BT, currently taking place in Salisbury and Mildenhall – the centre of its Exchange Upgrade trial where they plan to end new copper services from December 2020 in Salisbury and May 2021 in Mildenhall.

Originally announced in 2017 by BT, the long-serving analogue telephone network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) network will be upgraded to a digital (IP) network by 2025. However, as we have seen from Virgin’s announcement and the BT trials, the switchover is already underway and customers are seeing the impact of the changes today. Most of these changes are positive – the move will ensure a smarter, more efficient service, powered by the latest technology; and reducing reliance on components that are becoming out dated. But, there are some big implications for housing providers caring for older and vulnerable residents.

For providers of assisted living with analogue connected devices and equipment operating over the PSTN – such as telecare alarms, wellbeing devices or burglar alarms – the implications are much more severe as analogue equipment will begin to fail, unless they upgrade to digital devices.

For housing providers with analogue telecare devices in the areas currently under migration, this is extremely worrying. Our research has found that approximately 10% of first time calls from an analogue alarm fail over a digital telecoms networks. For an older resident in a life-threatening situation seeking assistance over the winter period that call failure could have a significant impact on the outcome.

For the last 15 months we’ve been working closely with BT, and Virgin, to rigorously test that our digital Smart Living Solutions are technically robust and meet all the requirements of the transition taking place. The independent auditors who were present confirmed that our digital equipment transitioned the network quickly and reliably, without any cause for concern, but this is not the case for all analogue devices.

The advice from the communications providers? Firstly, BT have stated that ‘the best system for a digital network is a fully digital system’ and the important word here is ‘fully’. Furthermore it is recommended that you contact your provider of telecare devices to ensure the equipment is compatible with the new phone service and continues to be suitable for the needs of residents and the housing provider.

If you would like to learn more about the telecoms changes taking place, the impact on housing providers, and the opportunities digital telecare enables, join one of our roadshows in early 2020. Roadshows are taking place in London, Newcastle, Chester and Cardiff. To register click here.