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Spark announces next phase of landline voice calling upgrade, ends voice-over-copper services

By Shannon Williams
Thu 16 Jul 2020
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Spark has announced it will begin the next phase of its landline voice calling upgrade, starting with one thousand home and business customers spread across Devonport, Auckland and Miramar, Wellington.

The upgrade will move customers off an end-of-life voice calling technology onto modern alternatives that are already used by the majority of kiwis across the country – voice over wireless and voice over fibre.

According to the telco, there are three ways customers ‘plug in’ to Spark’s network to make a voice call from a landline phone:

Voice over wireless: the home phone connects to Spark’s mobile towers, like a mobile phone does.
 
Voice over fibre: the home phone connects to the Ultra-Fast Broadband network via underground fibre optic cables that are connected to the house. 
 
Voice over copper (sometimes called the Public Switched Telephone Network or PSTN): the home phone connects to a network of switches over copper lines that are connected to the house.

Spark says the PSTN is at the end of its lifecycle and needs to be replaced using new technologies – meaning customers need to move to voice over wireless or voice over fibre. Because some of Spark’s broadband over copper services are also delivered through systems associated with these old switches, the company has also made the decision to withdraw all of its copper based broadband services in these areas.

For the majority of customers this will be a simple change and they will pay the same or less than they do now for the new service, Spark says.

In September Spark will send customers in Devonport and Miramar information on the options they have available to them through Spark at their address – voice over wireless, voice over fibre, or both. Spark’s copper broadband customers will also receive the options available to them.

"If customers choose to move to Spark’s voice over wireless, we will send them a new modem and two new wireless handsets, free of charge. Installation is as simple as plugging in the modem," Spark says.

"If customers choose to move to Spark’s voice over fibre, we will advise them whether fibre is already available at their property, or whether they need a technician to get it installed. Installation and a new handset, if needed, are also provided by Spark free of charge.

"After that it is business as usual – customers can continue to use their phone or access broadband as they always have. They can keep the same phone number, and will still enjoy all their landline perks, like free local calling to and from their landline, and toll calling," the company explains.

"We have a dedicated team of Spark support people who can talk through any concerns and find solutions for those with more complex needs."

The PSTN was built in the 1980s and is now end-of-life. It will not continue to work in the future.

The upgrade started in 2017 and Spark says the majority of customers have already chosen to make the move. 

"We have announced the next phase today, as we are giving notice that we will no longer be selling PSTN services in Devonport and Miramar from mid-August. We plan to stop providing services over the old PSTN to existing customers in Devonport and Miramar on 18 December 2020," it says.

"This means customers in Devonport and Miramar have plenty of time to prepare. In September, at least 90 days before the change, we will start direct communications to all customers with the information they need to make an informed choice about what service they would like to move to."

Spark Customer Director Grant McBeath said the upgrade is about ensuring Spark’s customers have access to modern technology that will keep them connected.

“When New Zealand went into Covid-19 lockdown it brought into sharp relief just how critical it is for everyone to have access to modern technology that is reliable and can keep them connected," he says.

“The reality is that the old network of switches that currently underpins voice calling is end-of-life. Its components have not been manufactured for 17 years, and the people with the skills needed to maintain this technology are also getting harder to find.

“Our customers have been moving off this technology in droves, and we now need to start completing that process for all customers. When we started the upgrade in 2017, we had over a million customers on the PSTN – it is now around 400,000, with another 10,000 customers on average leaving every month," says McBeath.

“We do understand that for some customers a change like this can feel daunting, and we are committed to doing everything we can to make the process as easy as possible. We have a customer support team dedicated to this project, who can provide personal, one-on-one support wherever it is needed.

“Our customers can also take heart in the fact that the technology we are moving them to is tried and tested. It’s what the majority of Kiwis use to make calls every day, and once they have made the switch their day-to-day experience won’t change – all we are doing is changing how their phone plugs into our network behind the scenes.”

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