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Why Is VoIP Replacing Copper Phone Lines in the U.S. and UK?

This article was updated on March 6, 2024

There was a time when calling a person’s home or business meant using a landline phone. These landline or analog phones involved handsets or rotary dials that were tethered to the wall by coiled cords. And although it wasn't immediately visible, the underlying telecommunications infrastructure relied on copper wires to keep conversations going.

 

Today, voice calls can happen over the internet, using voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology to connect people. Given the adoption of this technology, copper wires aren't nearly as essential anymore. So old landline infrastructures are being phased out in places like the United States and the United Kingdom. Read on for what this means for businesses and residences alike.

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Why Are Copper Phone Lines Being Phased Out?

Let’s start with a brief history. When the first telephones were installed in the last decades of the 19th century, they were connected to what was known as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). This network, which was sometimes also called POTS or Plain Old Telephone Service, used copper phone lines. It was the default system for making and receiving a call in both the U.S. and the UK throughout the 20th century. To add another acronym to the conversation, there’s ISDN, the Integrated Services Digital Network. What’s the difference? Essentially, ISDN uses similar copper wire infrastructure as PSTN but can also use more digital technology, like fiber optic cables.

Copper phone networks were once considered cutting-edge, and while millions of people and businesses still use them, new technology is creating a shift in the landscape. Instead of using a landline phone to place a call over the PSTN network, many people and businesses use mobile phones or computers to make calls using the internet with VoIP technology. VoIP calling uses an internet-connected device like smartphone, PC, or VoIP-compatible phone to place the call. Users can also continue to use headsets by plugging into an adapter that is internet-connected. 

With a strong internet connection, VoIP allows you to make and receive calls from virtually anywhere. To take that a step further, businesses are switching to unified communications systems, which leverage VoIP and bring in other channels like video conferencing and messaging. This shrinking demand for copper phone lines, combined with the expensive maintenance of aging PSTN networks, means it's time to move on.

Replacing the old PSTN infrastructure running on copper wire with a modern and reliable system is intended to better serve business and home communications needs well into the future. In short, the phones won’t stop ringing — you’ll just be connecting using different technology.

 

What to Expect in the U.S. vs. the UK?

The PSTN replacement is already underway in the U.S., although there's not yet an official sunset date. In 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued order 19-72A1, which permits telecommunications service providers to stop selling and maintaining copper phone lines. And because price caps on old analog lines have also been removed in many instances, they're becoming more expensive, with many businesses and residential customers already noticing an increase in their bills.

Unlike the U.S., the UK has provided a clear deadline for the upcoming switch from PSTN and copper wires. BT Openreach has announced that it will shut down its PSTN and ISDN networks in 2025. When that happens, every analog phone line — business and home — will have been switched to a broadband connection that enables VoIP calling. In fact, BT Openreach has already initiated a "stop sell" order for new PSTN and ISDN services. So if you're based in the UK, the time to begin planning for a replacement is now.

 

How Can Businesses Plan Ahead?

Many businesses have likely started thinking about moving away from PSTN/POTS lines altogether. As an alternative, they may be exploring VoIP and unified communications solutions, both of which are cloud-based and can be accessed by internet-connected devices. There are many benefits businesses can experience by making the switch, from enhanced call quality and flexibility to productivity-boosting features and reduced costs. Unified communications solutions unite voice calling with additional communication channels like video conferencing and messaging.

Some providers, like Vonage Business Communications, also have mobile apps to keep employees connected and collaborating whether they’re working in an office, remotely, or on the go. These systems often boost productivity even further by integrating with other key business applications like customer relationship management (CRM) software and productivity tools like Microsoft 365. Plus the costs are often more manageable without the need for complex equipment set-ups and maintenance.

Businesses in the U.S. and UK. should keep in mind that the end of PSTN service could affect other systems they depend on, such as security systems, fire alarm panels, fax machines, and elevator phones. For this reason, it's a good idea to do a complete audit of all legacy devices and identify which ones use PSTN connectivity before transitioning away from copper phone lines. It's also important to factor business continuity requirements into planning, confirming that adequate backup connectivity is available in the event of a power outage.

 

What Should Residential Users With Home Phone Lines Consider?

Now let’s explore what the shift to VoIP looks like for residences and home phone lines. By adopting VoIP to make and receive calls, residential users can benefit from higher call quality, advanced functionality, and cost savings.

Service providers may even use VoIP to take the home phone service experience to the next level. Vonage for Home, for example, offers features like voicemail delivered to email inboxes, a smartphone app to complete calls using a home phone number virtually anywhere, and simultaneous ring. Visit us online to learn more about Vonage for Home plans in the U.S. and UK.

Like businesses, residential customers should perform a quick check to make sure they don't have any systems in the house that use traditional copper phone lines, such as a fax machine or security system. If so, contact your telecommunications provider to learn how to best keep these devices connected — particularly if the power goes out.

 

Prepare for the Future of Voice Calling Today

Copper phone lines once revolutionized how people communicate, allowing them to stay in touch across distances. Today, telecommunications providers in the U.S. and UK are preparing for the end of traditional phone service and welcoming future-ready solutions that use VoIP technology. By taking proactive steps now, businesses and home phone users can be in the position to take full advantage of modern communications capabilities — leaving copper phone lines in their call history.

Explore the ways that Vonage Business Communications and Vonage for Home U.S. and UK. can help you prepare for the future of voice calling.

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