Why BT is turning its back on the landlines it used to champion

The end of landlines has been predicted many times before, but even BT is now turning its back on traditional telephone lines

Tuesday, 12 January, 2021

In 1994, BT launched the Bob Hoskins-fronted It’s Good to Talk advertising campaign, encouraging people to spend more time chatting over the phone.

This award-winning campaign became a minor classic, and is still referenced today by acclaimed technology writers.

Back in the mid-1990s, landline calls represented a key revenue stream for BT.

How times change.

Today, BT has begun a conscious uncoupling of its diverse telecommunications services from the landlines it once championed.

So is this the end of landlines? And if so, what’s going to replace them?

It’s good to text, VoIP, IM…

Landlines only do one thing well – transmit voice data.

The copper cabling we’ve inherited from our forefathers is notoriously poor at transferring digital data.

If fibre optic cables don’t extend to your nearest phone exchange (or, even better, directly into your home), copper lines deliver a miserly 11Mbps average download speed.

That’s barely enough to support an HD video call – which is another reason landlines are in terminal decline. If you have to speak to someone nowadays, they often want to see your face.

Meanwhile, more communications are conducted in writing these days, from email and Teams to encrypted IMs and social media sites.

Any remaining phone calls are generally conducted using our ever-present smartphones and their generous talk time allowances, rather than a bulky house phone in the next room.

Put bluntly, the landline is obsolete. Other ISPs know it. And now, BT has acknowledged the fact as well.

Out of order

Single Order Generic Ethernet Access debuted early last year from former BT subsidiary Openreach.

For the first time, ISPs can deliver broadband along fibre cabling without a landline being required.

Sky and EE quickly launched SOGEA broadband-only services, targeting customers who’d long resented having to pay for a landline they rarely used.

BT has now seen the writing on the wall, and started offering its own broadband-only service.

It’s worth noting this doesn’t necessarily save consumers any money, since phone lines are generally installed already and cost peanuts to maintain. Plus, talk time is cheap to provide.

However, for people who don’t want or need a landline, it simplifies billing and domestic setup – no house phone or sockets to maintain, and no landline number to remember.

It also makes Openreach’s job easier.

They don’t want to maintain traditional copper and high-tech fibre networks side by side, and they’re keen to see the end of landlines.

Consumers can still make telephone calls using platforms like Skype and Zoom, while it’s even possible to sign up to a digital-only phone service like BT’s Digital Voice platform.

This transmits crackle-free voice calls over the internet, with features like one-touch caller blocking that have hitherto only been offered by mobile networks.

Modern services like Digital Voice are likely to spell the end of landlines, as traditional concepts such as dialling codes and standalone handsets slowly fade into history.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!