Ofcom ensures you can still make emergency calls on a digital phone line

landline phone
(Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Gajus)

Ofcom has launched a new monitoring programme to see whether telecoms providers are complying with their emergency call obligations as the UK migrates from an analogue to digital phone system.

Digital voice services use the same fibre cables as broadband services, improving voice quality for customers and reducing cost, complexity, and energy consumption for telcos.

The only change that end users should expect to see is that they plug their handset into their router rather than a specific socket in the wall.

Digital voice

However digital voice services do not work in the event of a power cut, potentially leaving landline-dependent customers at risk of being isolated or unable to dial 999. Such an incident would be a breach of regulations and could pose a risk to life.

Ofcom says it plans to offer guidance to the industry and will keep track of how BT and other phone providers plan to ensure anyone can contact the emergency services if they need to.  

BT had wanted to switch off its analogue public switched telephone system (PSTN) by 2025 but has put the brakes on the transition for now after recognising the challenges. 

The company says it plans to improve the resiliency of its network and focus on faster power restoration and plans to introduce better backup solutions such as hybrid devices that can access a mobile network and feature a long-life battery pack.

The 999 system was established after a fatal fire at a doctor surgery led to proposals for a new way to telephone operators to identify emergency calls and the creation of an easy to remember number. Operators now receive more than 30 million calls a day and handled more than 100,000 a day during the peak of the pandemic.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.