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VoIP. Is Phone by Wire Nearly Dead?
24 Replies
44 Posts
The proposal was 2025
(remember much of the PSTN up to the exchange is already IP internally)
as referenced here
The current BT smart Hub 2
The TalkTalk Broadband Hub
The latest Sky Hub
All have a PSTN/'BT style' phone socket on them... in readiness

Many new estates have for some years only had Fibre broadand to the property.. no copper
Some by private companies such as 'see the light' 
Some by openreach, with (till recently) only BT offering services over IP. and Fibre to the property. 

Last years move to provide Fibre to the Property (FTTP) rather than the G.FAST and FTTC (cabinet) high speed broadband is part of that. Private companies are being subsidised to roll it out to existing locations.

So ultimately many people will have only copper from the green cabinet to the home until such time as they get a fibre connection.
Will it be 2025 ?
possibly not - like the turning off of 405 line TV...

It does leave the question of backup of phone services when (230v) power goes off - the 48v Phone supply will no longer be available to keep the phone (or in this case broadband) working 

And no, it does not mean it will be cheaper.. (though it should be)
many VoIP services are charged as highly as traditional services... 
Simon Barker
711 Posts
I'm not sure how that idea of using VoIP even makes sense.  To use it, you need broadband, and to get broadband, you need a copper wire or fibre.  So either way, you're still paying the line rental.  You only save on the calls package.

I saved on my calls package a year ago by cancelling it, and using the mobile phone for outgoing calls instead.  It's easier than setting up VoIP.

Some years ago, I did actually have VoIP.  BT offered it as a no-cost add-on to their broadband service.  Their home router had a phone socket and built-in DECT basestation.  But they eventually realised it was making them no money and closed it down.
Denis McMahon
266 Posts
VOIP is now very popular in business premises, and for good reason. These premises are wired up for ethernet; why not use the same wiring for phones, seeing that it is entirely possible? If you change desk or office - no problem with the phone. You just pick up any convenient phone, as you would anyway, log into it and you have the use of the phone with your usual number. No waiting a fortnight for telecoms team to do a patching job in the PABX room. But these phones are still connected by wire, though the telephone network point of entry to the premises may well be fibre optic.

Are mobile phones going to take over? Time will tell, but at present they are a slow and expensive way to use the Internet, though I expect that 5G will improve things. One advantage of VOIP with a mobile phone is savings on international calls; the Internet has little regard for geographical distance.

I think that VOIP is going to penetrate successfully the domestic market before long. But copper wire is going to be with us for a while yet.
James Shaw
205 Posts
The 'telephone cable drums' pictured in the article referenced in the original post are actually high voltage power cable drums as used in the USA.

That's what happens when journalists use stock images to add some colour to their articles.
Simon Barker
711 Posts
If BT have their way, it won't be a case of VOIP successfully penetrating the home market.  BT intends to switch off the whole POTS telephone network in the next few years, and migrate everything to VOIP.  Anybody who still wants a land-line phone will be given a box, which will effectively be a cut-down broadband modem with a phone socket on it.

Presumably anyone who has a broadband service will be encouraged to install some kind of VOIP phone on that.
Denis McMahon
266 Posts
I think that is quite likely, Simon. Not so much penetrating the market as being induced. It does kind of make sense after all.

My BT home hub has a spare telephone socket, at present unused but . . .
Andy C
11 Posts
Back in the 80s I was involved with the Royal Observer Corps. We had reporting posts scattered all over the UK each linked by traditional phone lines from exchanges which were -at the time- still mostly Strowger type electro mechanical and thus quite resilient to the effects of EMP from nuclear bursts. The battery backup in the smaller exchanges was reckoned to be okay for about a week.
Now everything is digital/electronic and apparently with the resilience of a chocolate teapot to anything resembling stray voltages: some years ago a site I look after had 2 lightning strikes on two nearby buildings. The electromechanical exchange was untouched apart from some surge protectors popping and a few mains fuses needed replacement around the site. Another nearby site which was mostly electronic were almost wiped out.
Does this mean any third world dictator with a nuke or two could bring the whole of europe to a grinding halt?
David Parr
288 Posts
I was fortunate to work on System X for a good part of my career, and can assure you that much thought was put into this. Although I hope it will never be proven, I think a combination of sensible equipment location whilst maintaining suitable electromechanical elements in the security communications structure would mean the few holocaust survivors could still call one another to arrange an armistice before they succumb to the nuclear winter!
I have been bombarded by adverts of this kind saying that we need "Never pay a landline phone bill again" and claiming that VoIP is a NEW Technology that the phone companies do not want us to know about! The very strong implication being that we need not pay (around £200 per annum) for Line Rental and can simply swap over to VoIP and save loads of money. As several Forum Members have already observed, we still have to pay for Line Rental if we want a decent low latency, ADSL (Typically 36Mbit/s Download and 10 Mbit/s Upload) cabled Broadband service for our Laptops, PCs, Tablest and Smartphones in our homes. The only current alternative is using your smartphone over a nominal 4G/LTE mobile air interface which means waiting say 10 times as long as ADSL Fibre Broadband to the Street Cabinet, to upload a simple 3 minute 250MB video to 'the cloud' for the purposes of submitting my Smartphone AV recording of the Bass part to a Virtual Choir invitation in May of this year during 'The Lockdown'. This was done by mistake when I had accidentally turned off my WiFi connection to the Router Modem in the Hallway!

Yes 5G is promising even faster access to the WWW than current 4G networks, but we all know that the reality will be poorer phone coverage geographically, significantly less speed than promised on paper and a requirement for many more antenna to support the shorter range that 5G brings. The appropriate use of new technology is to be commended where it offers a real benefit to the population but the number of shady marketing scammers who jump on the band wagon and offer 'jam today' for 'next to no cost' are deluded, ignorant and fraudulent. Sadly there are so few of our engineering peers in Parliamnet that powerful lobby groups periodically manage to bully the UK Govt into making legislation that suits their commercial agenda and is not properly peer reviewed before roll out. But that is another story! Good luck everybody.      
As engineers, we should get the terminology right. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology enables traditional telephony services to operate over "data/computer" networks by converting your voice into a digital signal allowing it to be "switched" over the digital network and then converted back into voice at the other end. Simply put, it is phone service delivered over the "switches" (exchanges) using internet protocol. The "old" circuit switched telephone exchanges are practically non-existent since IP switches are cheaper to run. So even "old fashioned" phone calls are switched using IP. The only part of the "old technology" is the copper wire to your local exchange and you rent this copper wire (so that your call can be switched by any competitor and not necessarily BT)
The old law still applies: Only the "old" land-line phone is supposed to work even if the area has no electricity and the operator has to guarantee that you can make emergency calls. This is done by actually powering the phone from telephone exchange, so unlike computer, VoIP phone, etc. you do not need home electricity (or power backup)  to make phone calls. You will note that there is always a disclaimer for VoIP (not suitable for emergency calls, ...). Mobile phones have made the above part "redundant" since you can now call emergency services using your mobile phone, provided you have good coverage!
Line Rental is the charge for using the "copper wire" from your house to the local telephone exchange. This copper wire is still needed to use another digital technology on it called ADSL
(Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line)  so that you can use your copper wire to transfer digital signals (and by the can make VoIP calls). With Fibre Optics, you do not need copper wire but I am sure you will still have to pay to rent the fibre from your home to first exchange.
BT was broken up into "local" part as BT Consumer (who owns copper wires/fibre optics to consumer premises) and BT Enterprise - the backend part which can be used by competitors as well. The breakup was mandated to ensure that BT Enterprise did not subsidise BT Consumer indirectly.

Unless you have excellent mobile coverage and good enough for your Netflix, You Tube, etc. or you do not use any of that, one is stuck with BT Consumer and hence Line Rental charges.

Nothing to do with ADSL, etc. - it is "pipe" which is need for fast internet services.

Best wishes,

Thank you Kirit for your explanation of these terms that are bandied around so frequently by product marketing organisations in the hope that 'the general public' will be easily 'taken in' by these 'allegedly' new technologies. I must apologise if my comments appeared to reflect any ignorance on my part. On the contrary, I made the mistake of assuming that many IET Forum Members would realise that I was actually being heavily critical of the very loose use of terminology and the false promises of cost savings alluded to in the TalkTechDaily Advert link posted by Zoomup.

From my own recent experience, of upgrading my broadband from Basic Copper ADSL (10Mbit/s download, 800kbit/s upload) via copper pair cable from my home to the local exchange approx 1 mile away, I was offered a small cost saving, of some £2 per month, fixed for 18 months to upgrade to a much faster Fibre Broadband service, which gives typically 36Mbit/s download and 10 Mbit/s upload speeds. Not that I needed any more than 10Mbit/s download for watching BBC iplayer etc via the WWW, but the much improved upload speed given by this new, mostly optical fibre based service has already proved a bonus when uploading large data files into various 'clouds'.

Dependency on Exchange 48 volt Supply
The observations made by some members regarding the dependency of the user's landline telephone handset on the availability of the nominal 48 volt exchange supply, for correct operation of their 'phone, especially in the event of an emergency, where the local national power grid fails is undoubtedly an important consideration. Indeed it was/is common to see DECT landline handsets supplied with a red warning label that the cordless handset to base station link will not work in the event of a mains power failure (since it is illegal to draw any significant power from the exchange 48 volt supply - it is traditionally only used for 'signalling' when using an old fashioned round dial 'return to zero' handset). Presumably, customers equipped with Fibre to the Home connections to the local exchange via associated electronics will not be supplied with any 48 volt line into their premises. I am not fully up to date with the fine details of these FTTH systems, but assume we are expected to use our mobile phones to make emergency calls in the event of local mains power failure, and hope that the nearest 4G/LTE mobile phone network antenna/mast and associated electronic gear is all fully battery 'backed up' by UPS systems.              
Most likely you re to the FTTC/N (Fibre To The Curb / Node) rather than FTTH (Home) so the last bit to your home is still copper cable and if so then it should provide emergency service as C/N are supposed to have battery back-up for x min (I do not remember x - too long ago!)
People do forget that there is a high data requirements these days for watching Netflix, iPlayer, gaming, youtube, etc. etc. not forgetting Zoom/Skype/Video calls by several people in home at the same time.
So you will most likely end up having a land-line and d pay for it. The only difference is that BT has to unbundle the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) so one could save a bit of money depending on the calling pattern/requirements. I make lots of international calls and so cheaper for me to have landline POTS when you look at bundled tariff offers.
13 Posts
Andy C:
Does this mean any third world dictator with a nuke or two could bring the whole of europe to a grinding halt?

With IP based systems they don't need a nuke; they can do it with Telnet. 
Not just the phones: the electricity, gas and water distribution, the traffic lights and smart motorways, air traffic, rail signalling, containerised freight ... 

However it's great if you're working from home. Or working from your holiday home but want the boss to think you're still working from home-home. 

Simon Barker
711 Posts
I was expecting to be switched to VoIP this week.  When renewing my Sky broadband deal, I was told I would be sent a new router with a phone socket.  After the switch over, my existing phone line would not work, so no phone calls during a power cut.

It turned out that the call handler was reading from the wrong script.  VoIP is not yet being rolled out on my old-fashioned ADSL2+ service, and I got a normal broadband router.

So it seems that some ISPs are now being proactive and switching over their fibre broadband users.  Most likely to avoid paying bills to BT Wholesale, rather than because they want to be ahead of the curve.

But there are all sorts of pitfalls with the new VoIP lines:
  • They don't work in a power cut.
  • They are not compatible with some home alarm services.
  • If you have extension sockets, they won't work - you have to use the socket on the router.
  • If there's a broadband fault, the phone line will always fail at the same time.
So in reality, it's inferior in many ways, and offers no advantages to the consumer.
13 Posts
Simon Barker:
But there are all sorts of pitfalls with the new VoIP lines:
  • They don't work in a power cut.
  • They are not compatible with some home alarm services.
  • If you have extension sockets, they won't work - you have to use the socket on the router.
  • If there's a broadband fault, the phone line will always fail at the same time.
  • They may be some proprietary implementation of VoIP, rather than SIP, further tying you in to their router and service.

In terms of extension sockets, there are VRI voice reinjection faceplates available, and Openreach's standard is that the ISP should supply one that the customer can fit to their existing NTE.


SOGEA interstitial faceplate allowing extensions to switch from fibre to copper
Image from https://community.sky.com/t5/Talk/Sky-Talk-VOIP-on-SOGEA-with-own-ATA/td-p/3133316
Andy C
11 Posts
Well, I'm just taking my first steps into the world of VOIP having just taken delivery of the unit programmed with my access phone numbers. With this I can plug in my olde worlde dial phone and call up several mates who are also online, listen to the original speaking clock (!!!) and even turn the lights on and make PA announcements at a site 200 miles away. This should be interesting (and a steep learning curve!).
One thing I have noticed in recent years (and this may not be directly connected to VOIP, but possibly the method by which people make the calls) is the quality of a lot of the phone calls/interviews one hears on the radio which can range from almost natural to distinctly dalek. I'm not too well up on the mechanics of VOIP but I assume when the network or parts of it are at capacity the various systems start screwing down on bandwidth/data rates and reducing the audio sampling rate and hence the quality is one result?
As I had mentioned, almost all calls are now VoIP, the difference is where does it start! Is it your local exchange where conversion takes place or at your premise. Basically, very simplification, before there was a dedicate one-to-one circuit between caller and called party (circuit switched). Now the voice (info) is converted into digital packets and sent over internet as packets. These packets may take different routes and may arrive at destination in different order! So at destination they are converted back into correct order and into voice. If one packet did not arrive, you get "clipped". The quality of sound may depend on the (internal) "codecs/ modem)" used to change voice-to data and then date-to-voice.
For someone who really pays extra (typically an enterprise), they can demand a "virtual circuit" (like it was in the good old days) to ensure that all the packets use the same route to destination!
So: VoIP is a protocol (the P is for Protocol) which also may use SIP, ....
Depending on what the "VoIP" operator has provided, you may be able to use old house phone lines and old telephone (their equipment acts like local exchange and if they have also included battery back-up), then in the event of power failure, you will be able to make phone calls for typically 1 hrs (depends on the backup power capacity).
This is the future (!) and more likely we will all migrate to fibre optics as this is again cheaper still to provide and maintain (compared to copper wise).

Best wishes,
Andy Millar
1780 Posts
This thread has just made me look up BT Cloud Phone - which BT tried very hard to push on us a couple of months ago (because my wife is self employed from home we have a BT business line / fibre to our house). Here's an odd thing - as far as I can see all their VOIP phones are wired ethernet. What??? You don't hard wire things these days - that's why we have WiFi! 

Does anyone know (for technical interest) what other providers are doing?

I don't know whether we would ever go to it. Our landline is for a) our mothers, b) my wife's business calls for which a dual SIM mobile would probably actually be better, c) those friends and family who we don't contact often enough to get around to giving them any other number. Everyone else uses our mobiles or web messaging.


Andy Millar
1780 Posts
Oh, and of course d) Microsoft telling us our computer has a virus / Amazon telling us our account is about to be disabled / various banks (who we don't have accounts with) telling us there has been fraudulent activity on our account. These seem to make up the majority of our landline calls :(
13 Posts
Andy Millar:
What??? You don't hard wire things these days - that's why we have WiFi! 
b) my wife's business calls for which a dual SIM mobile would probably actually be better, 

Possibly the power requirements of a VoIP phone make a native wifi/SIP cordless phone less practical. There are VoIP base units with DECT handsets.
My 'landline' has been VoIP for 10 years through Sipgate. It's cordless if I run a SIP client (Zoiper) on my Android tablet. No monthly fees, 1.2p/minute outgoing calls. (Other providers are available.)

For business calls it's ideal. Unanswered calls go to voicemail which is emailed, or accessed via a webpage, or by dialling 5000 on a registered phone or client. Voice quality is 99% of the time as good as or better than landline. Unlike a mobile, the local dialling code looks more established/reputable and is included in more people's inclusive minutes. 

BT Cloud Phone is another slightly proprietary solution. And you might not be able to port a Cloud Phone number to another provider. 

Denis McMahon
266 Posts
Andy Millar:
. . .  Here's an odd thing - as far as I can see all their VOIP phones are wired ethernet. What??? You don't hard wire things these days - that's why we have WiFi! 
Does anyone know (for technical interest) what other providers are doing?
. . .

WiFi is great, especially for mobile phones, and we have a good signal in most parts of our house. But I am glad I wired up for ethernet. Sometimes you need the speed and greater reliability. Operations like downloading TV programmes from i-Player or the likes take time, but ethernet speeds things up.

Talking about TV and providers for a moment gives us an interesting comparison. Television has been broadcast "through the air" since its earliest days. Now, however, one provider is trying to convince us that it is cool to dig up roads all over to bury fibre optic cables to bring it to us that way. We seem to be going in the other direction.

Of course those cables can bring us other things - telephone, broadband . . .  It will be interesting to see what happens in the future. Those underground cables could well become shared by providers, just as at present we have sharing of telephone exchange equipment, energy infrastructure.

I do not remember the exact quote and I think it was Prof. Negroponte of Media Lab something to the effect in early '80s: "What is coming through air (TV) will come through wire (IPTV) and what is coming through wire (telephone service) will come through air (mobile telephones)"!
As I mentioned before, to allow competition, there were "unbundling" laws - much like for electricity and/or railways hence BT was split into two parts to allow competitors to "rent" and use "last mile" to ensure that their backbone does not subsidise the last mile and that this should cost the same to rent BT or to any other provider.
If you need speed, multiple connections and reliability (business or environment), then you need "wire" and fibre- optics will be the future.
I noticed someone lamenting that old telephone exchanges (circuit switch) have been replaced and so one needs one nuke to take out whole network - this is wrong!
It was precisely the above that led to "internet" which is self-healing and finds different routes. You VoIP call to your neighbour might have travelled to US or Germany and back on per second or less basis - packets do not follow the same path! If you want that they follow the same path, then you have to pay extra (!) to have "virtual circuit switch connection" (what used to happen in good old days)
Best wishes,
59 Posts
I said "Where's the house phone".  My eight year old grandson said "What's a house phone?"

I have just renewed my package with BT, now I pay for every landline call, because I don't use it at all.  The only time it is used now is when an elderly relative calls (who doesn't use a mobile phone) or scam calls.

My brother lives in Spain and has just stopped his landline rental, now all phone calls are via WhatsAp or Messenger and suddenly the quality is much better and the call more reliable.  He wonders why he didn't do this a long time ago.

I have just installed a mobile network router and Amazon Echo for a blind friend who did not even have a landline and now he can make phone calls through Alexa by just using his voice.  This is a very cheap way of internet for him.

Yes, I'm sure the landline phone is quickly on the way out!

As a long term 'landline telephone with broadband' user and only recently having added a so called smart phone to my gadgets, I am intrigued to read the various experiences of forum members regarding this subject. I have made the following observations:


1.) To those who question the need to have an Ethernet wired connection to either their mobile 4G based network hub device or fixed line router/modem/hub, I must say that in my experience Wi-Fi at 2.4GHz is inherently unreliable and ‘drops out’ from time to time, especially for users in densely populated neighbourhoods or those living in tower blocks or flats. This happens frequently, for a number of reasons that are generally not soluble satisfactorily, even if you use the latest allegedly 'best in class' BT HUB or similar or individual Wi-Fi signal boosters and/or range extenders. I have observed, using channel monitoring applications, that there are very few Wi-Fi channels 'within range' to cause any serious contention for bandwidth on the 5GHz bands in our neighbourhood of mostly bungalows, detached and semi-detached houses. However the 5GHz signal strength and usable ‘wireless bandwidth’ reduces rapidly as we move around the house and whilst my laptops are equipped with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz interfaces, my smart phone is only equipped with 2.4GHz.


2.) Having taken part in numerous Zoom meetings with friends and family at various times of the day and evenings since March 2020, I have concluded that many of the instances of the 'under water or dalek voice' plus video freezing occurrences that we observe coming from other participants may well be due to these Wi-Fi 'drop outs' in their individual setups where at the same time very few have complained about similar impairments form our 'home studio'. Needless to say I have been using a ‘hard wired’ Ethernet connection between my laptop and router modem which is, I believe far more reliable a 'link' than using the alternative, but very popular Wi-Fi home connection path. Undoubtedly, some of the instances of channel impairment during these typically one hour duration Zoom calls/meetings can be placed at the door of bandwidth or network availability contentions elsewhere than in the home but when all is said and done, the internet runs on what is fundamentally a packet based, best efforts, simplex communication protocol and so it is inevitable that packets will be dropped from time to time, and that multi-way or even just two-way conversations over the medium, will ‘break up’ under certain traffic flow conditions, even when using a dedicated, end-to-end High Grade channel, using business grade codecs with large buffering/latency provisions - as can be seen frequently on our TV News Channels where both video and audio quality is often severely impaired in real time.


3.) My Son lives in a flat with no landline available so he uses a small portable 4G mobile network hub device to connect to the internet and stream all those TV programmes not available ‘off air’ via the communal Satellite Feed provided in the flats, and he seems to manage his TV internet streaming adequately using the Wi-Fi interface between his TV and the network hub. Maybe it is a dual band (2.4G/5G) device but the max download it offers is only around 10Mbit/s over the 4G mobile network compared with our 36Mbit/s download and 10 Mbit/s Upload speeds on our old fashioned (costly, annual Line Rental package) landline based system.

4.) I must say that the 10 Mbit/s upload offered by our copper wired landline to the BT Fibre ‘street cabinet’ just 100 metres down the road, has proved to be very useful recently when uploading even modest video files to 'the Google cloud' when my wife and I have contributed to several virtual choir recordings made on our new smart phone, organised to keep us all amused during the various months of Covid - 19 restrictions, when amateur choirs are unable to meet to rehearse let alone give performances to live audiences.

On a positve note, thank heavens the growth of the UK high speed optical fibre telecommunications network/infrastructure, installed by BT since its initial introduction in the early 1980s, has finally ‘come good’ to support so many large numbers of white collar office workers ‘working remotely’ often from home, during these troubled times. At least that is something we telecoms design and development engineers can be proud that we got right, in time for these unforeseen emergency conditions. It remains to be seen how many employees will be able to continue with some form of mixed mode remote/office working in future as we all adopt the ‘New Normal’ post pandemic.



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