Broadband without a Phone Line Buyers Guide
"Can I get broadband without a phone line?" is one of the most common questions we're asked. The answer is yes, but with many caveats. Here's the lowdown on what you need to know.
Why do most broadband deals currently need a phone line?
The vast majority of broadband services use at least a small part of the UK's copper phone wire network, and to use them you need an active phone line.
This is true even of most fibre deals. The majority of fibre broadband services run on the BT-owned Openreach network, and are known as fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband, or FTTC. Here, the fibre connection only runs as far as your nearest street cabinet, and the link from the cabinet to your home is made over the copper wires. Access to the copper network automatically comes with a phone service and a phone number. You have to pay for line rental even if you don't use the line, and the cost is built into your monthly broadband price.
However, things are changing. The UK's existing copper-based phone service is set to be closed down in 2025, and replaced by a combination of internet and mobile phone services. This is something that is already happening around the world, including in countries like Germany, France and New Zealand.
After this date, not only will you not need a phone line with your broadband, you won't be able to get one. That doesn't mean you won't be using the copper lines - FTTC will still exist, you just won't have a dial tone and won't be able to make or receive calls.
This will lead to a new range of broadband-only services from providers that use the Openreach network. These have the very technical name - SOGEA (Single Order Generic Ethernet Access) broadband - but fortunately you don't need to worry about the technicalities. They're generally sold under the name 'broadband-only', and a few are already available.
What is SOGEA, or broadband-only?
SOGEA broadband is a new range of broadband-only services that give you fibre internet without needing a landline.
In the simplest terms, BT's Openreach network is separating out the phone system from the physical copper phone wires. So, where right now if you have a broadband service that uses the copper wires - which most do - then you automatically get an active phone line and a phone number with it. In future, you won't. You can buy standalone broadband-only services, on the fibre network, without a phone line.
It's great news for the growing number of us who only have a landline because we need it for broadband. You can already get a few broadband-only deals today, and after 2025 it will become the norm.
Areas that aren't covered by fibre will have a slower standard broadband-only equivalent, called SOTAP, while those who can get Openreach's ultrafast G.fast fibre service will be able to get SOGFast.
Is it cheaper than normal broadband?
You'd think that not paying for a voice service would work out cheaper, but that's not necessarily true. Your broadband-only service still uses the copper network, so you still have to pay for access, maintenance and all the rest. The actual voice part is a relatively tiny part of the price.
In the long run it may work out a little cheaper, but at the moment you won't save by going broadband-only. You don't need to keep a phone plugged in if you don't use it, so that's a perfectly reasonable compromise in the meantime.
What are the benefits to broadband-only?
In reality, most people won't notice any difference between today's broadband and tomorrow's broadband-only, but there are a few benefits.
- No phone line. If you don't use your landline, this is the big one.
- Potentially cheaper. Prices may come down a touch longer term, although don't expect anything dramatic.
- Faster and more reliable. Without voice traffic on the same network, there is the potential for speeds to go up a touch, and for connections to become more reliable.
- Easier to fix. Problems with the line should be easier and quicker to fix.
What are the downsides?
Of course, no change comes without a few downsides.
- No phone line. The big selling point for those that don't use a landline can be a negative for those that do. This may be a particular problem for elderly or vulnerable users, as personal alarms and other support services will stop working.
- You'll lose your phone number when you sign up. If you're planning to sign to up to a broadband-only package today, make sure you're certain you don't need your number. You won't be able to get it back if you change your mind.
- You still need a BT line. Even if you switch to broadband-only FTTC you still need access to the old copper cables, so do still need to be connected to the BT network.
What if I still need a landline?
For now, if you still need a landline, you should stick with a broadband service that includes a landline. In the longer term, this won't be an option. VoIP (internet calls) and mobile will replace the traditional phone network.
The main issue with VoIP is that it doesn't work in a power cut, which is a problem if you need to contact the emergency services. To help protect against this, Ofcom have introduced guidelines for broadband providers. These include ensuring that people can contact emergency organisations for at least an hour during a power cut (like through a backup battery, for example), and to look out for at-risk customers and provide them with solutions for free if they need their traditional landline.
It's worth noting that the loss of a landline service is also a consequence of using full fibre, which almost all of us will eventually. Full fibre providers tend to offer VoIP services, with call plans, as add-ons to their broadband.
What type of call services are available?
For most people and businesses, a combination of mobile and VoIP will replace the old landline. It's a big undertaking, as there are around 15 million premises still relying on the ageing technology.
VoIP is a catch-all term that refers to any call made over the internet, and can include things like FaceTime or WhatsApp on your phone. You can also get a more traditional VoIP phone that plugs in to your network, and has a phone number attached. In many cases you can even port your existing landline number across to your new VoIP service - although it's essential that you do that before you switch to a broadband-only service, otherwise you'll lose your number.
VoIP phones offer many of the same features you get with your landline, like caller ID and call barring. Call plans also work in the same way, with a set call allowance, including international calls, premium numbers, and emergency numbers.
Can I get broadband-only today?
A few providers have already started offering broadband-only services on the Openreach network. This is on top of the other companies that already offer similar services.