From 2025, it looks like all households and businesses will need the internet to make phone calls under a major digital shake-up, as the major telecoms providers move away from their legacy analogue systems which are expensive to run and inefficient compared to modern digital alternatives. This move is led by the market rather than one being ordered by the government.
It means millions of customers will be pushed online for the first time or forced to rely on a mobile phone instead.
Currently, around half a million households do not own a mobile phone and roughly 1.5 million homes (6% of the total home stock) do not have internet access according to OFCOM. That includes about half of the over 75s and Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, is worried: ‘This could be a particular problem for our oldest citizens. Given the threat of fraud, telecom providers need to take steps to prevent anyone who is in particularly vulnerable circumstances from becoming victims of digital scams.
The overall number of people who are not digitally connected will surely be much lower in 4 years’ time as adventurous silver surfers go further with some of the tentative technology knowledge gains they’ve made during lockdown. However, those citizens who, for many different reasons, have not gone online or gone mobile are the ones who risk being left behind and shut out of some vital public services, including those from banks, insurers, travel and healthcare providers. No doubt the end of the analogue landline spells difficulties for many people as the UK makes the switch to digital-only calls.
But we have been through this before. In 2012, the switch to digital TV carried similar warnings and concerns but the nation seems to have coped. We coped because people love watching TV and family and friends frequently stepped in to upgrade those in need who were quite keen to keep on watching, and needed a digital TV signal if they wanted to see programmes in HD.
Similar moves have happened with the radio spectrum. Many car audio systems come with Digital Radio connectivity built in, but people are also much more comfortable using their data allowance (or Wi-Fi) to listen to radio on their mobile or use podcasting applications to listen to their favourite shows whenever they get the chance.