Digital Shift Update

Steve Sadler, TSA’s technology strategist has been working closely with BT, Ofcom and our own Technology Advisory Group to ensure a smooth transition for TECS as the switch over to digital networks gathers pace.



TSA re-ignited our Technical Advisory Group a few months ago, and we have held two meetings of the group since we last did an update. This group is open to any technology suppliers and service providers that have a particular interest in the technology that underpins Technology Enabled Care services. We welcome attendance from non-TSA members where they have useful information or advice to offer. Get in touch with the TSA if you are interested.

No surprise that the issues around digital migration of telecommunications are taking centre stage, perhaps because BT, OpenReach and Ofcom have announced consultations in recent months that relate to the end of traditional phone line services.

We also have work underway on Mobile and Cellular Alarm connectivity and Fall Detector Operational issues, alongside our standing work items that relate to the development of various standards.



Firming-up on our previous information regarding migration to IP, a reminder that OpenReach is a wholesale provider of phone line services to resellers – you and I buy our phone services from the resellers.

OpenReach has announced their consultation with the other Communications Providers regarding their plan to end supply of traditional phone line services in 2025, with no new sales from 2023.

OpenReach will move to the supply of ‘data pipes’ only, and it will be for other organisations to sell voice and other services that use these ‘pipes’.

We will all need to buy our future voice services as Voice over IP (VoIP) from a range of suppliers, presumably including BT’s retail arm.

This reinforces the previous TSA advice that we need to look at the impact on alarm services as a priority.



Ofcom is also consulting on the protection of access to emergency organisations when there is a power cut at the customer’s premises. We need to remember here that the new IP communications networks in their purest form will exchange data with the home through router devices, much as we have now with a broadband/wifi router, but going forward this will not include access to an analogue phone line, so the line will not work when there is no power in the home.

Of course, social alarm standards require 24hr continuity in the event of power cuts, so this may be quite a challenge for some. However, Ofcom’s immediate interest is that they also need communications providers to ensure continued access to emergency organisations and 999 calls when power fails, particularly for ‘those at risk’.

Ofcom launched a public consultation on this issue. TSA submitted a response, where we asked for alarm systems to be considered explicitly in this debate, for alarm services to be categorised as emergency organisations, and even for alarm systems to be considered as part of the technical solution.

It’s worth noting that telecare alarm systems are pretty smart in monitoring their connectivity, also the state of their batteries, and importantly some provide multiple communication connections, by switching for example from fixed-line to cellular networks when they need to. We have seen this capability already with digital alarm devices in other countries, also with some grouped living systems. So, these alarm systems could be very useful links to emergency services when the lights go out.


BT Testing facility

BT launched their promised test facility in July, at their Martlesham facility, with invitations to equipment suppliers to come test their systems. The facility, a former MOD site, is near Ipswich – whether the location was a coincidence or are BT being ironic?

The idea is to test both older analogue alarms, and new digital alarms across different comms networks and into different monitoring centre systems, and where network performance can be degraded. Our interest within the Technology Advisory Group is to create a common test specification, so that service providers and users will be able to compare the results of any testing – we have a working group looking at this.

We can also anticipate a number of other questions as we encounter digital solutions. The Scottish programme led by SCTT is leading the way for UK, and they are raising challenges about supplier readiness with respect to cyber security and other aspects of system safety or performance. These are other topics that the Technology Advisory Group is looking at in preparing guidance documents.


Cellular connectivity

We are seeing increased use of devices that connect over mobile networks, which raises questions around performance, use of SIMs, roaming and so on. The Technical Advisory Group has compiled a guidance document, which is currently in review and should be released shortly.



There are a range of different standards being looked at or supported. We have provided comments to CENELEC on BS EN 50134 part 9. This is the standard that covers digital alarm protocol and interoperability, so quite important for those future digital systems.

Within CEN, work also continues at pace on TC/431. This is the proposed Service Chain standard for Social Care Alarms, and it will be relevant to all service providers. Paul Finch represents TSA and part of his focus is to ensure that the standard and the TSA Quality Standards Framework stay aligned.


Fall detectors

This is something that has been raised by service providers, who are concerned at possible false alarms and the impact on alarm services. There are some smart products out there, but their algorithms all work in slightly different ways and use different criteria for creating alerts. If a service is not aware or aligned with those criteria the worry is that lots of false alarms can be raised by overly sensitive devices, or even falls events missed. We have asked for a small group to evaluate the situation and create a guidance document. Watch this space.



This process of moving to VoIP is not unique to the UK. Europe and other parts of the world are making similar plans or are even further down the line than we are. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom are aiming for a fill switch this year with Sweden and Japan already in the process.

  • BT announces end of PSTN and ISDN – May 2017
  • Digital shift process starts – late 2018
  • End of wholesale provision of analogue lines - 2023
  • Full switch-over completed – 2025

It’s difficult to get firmer dates on this process as much depends no doubt on the various consultation and testing process that are underway and still to come. We are fully immersed in this and will publish further updates later in the year.


Further information

BT digital shift information for special service providers