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What is happening to lift communications in the UK, and what do you need to do about it?

Vertical Transportation By Graham Barker, Partner, Vertical Transportation – 15 February 2022

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Graham Barker

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Mark Moore

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Within the UK lift industry, there has been a regulatory requirement to fit communication devices to new passenger lifts since 1988. EN81-1 and EN81-2 gave clear guidance on installing a communication line to allow a trapped passenger to call for help. With no details on specific methods to use, 2003 saw the release of BS EN 81-28 which provided detail on a dedicated standard for alarm systems in passenger and goods lifts. Other features were added such as, alerts if the network communications link has failed; lift location; emergency battery back-up to the alarm device; visual and audible signals of the alarm status and the ability to filter out false alarms and testing. Later revisions saw the extension of the system to the lift car and lift machine room, the lift car top and the lift shaft pit. The auto-dialler should be easy to programme and not require specialist tools.

Whilst the regulations only apply to new lifts, we would still advise all lifts are equipped with emergency communications to the latest standards. The Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) are a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work Act and place duties on all businesses and organisations whose employees use lift equipment, whether owned by them or not. LOLER Regulation 5 places specific duties to prevent (so far as reasonably practicable) a person from being trapped in a lift. This is further expanded upon within the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) which states that ‘if someone becomes trapped in a carrier, they should be able to summon assistance’.

UK phoneline changes and how these will affect lifts and lift owners

The majority of lifts in the UK use emergency communications via an auto-dialler over public switched telephone network (PSTN) lines. PSTN lines are the traditional copper phone lines that have been used since the invention of the telephone and date back to the nineteenth century. The network requires a costly infrastructure and limits the data options and the distance that signals can be sent across them. Integrated services digital network (ISDN) is a newer method but still uses technology from over forty years ago and is unsuitable for modern data requirements.

As from 2020, BT Openreach has not offered ISDN or PSTN lines to customers and businesses. From December 2025, BT have announced they will be migrating to IP technology (Internet Protocol), predominantly over VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), and switching all other networks off.

Note there are two main types of Internet Protocol systems:

  • VOIP – Voice Over Internet Protocol. Enables the making and receiving of phone calls over the internet. This is the most common IP system.
  • SIP – Session Initiation Protocol – SIP will send and receive any multimedia data, such as video calls rather than only sending voice data like the VOIP phone system.

Unfortunately, ISDN and PSTN circuits still support most business and commercial properties. Most businesses will already have in place internet services and many already use software such as Skype and Teams to make and receive phone calls over the internet. But lift communication systems need to be reviewed. Most older existing auto-dialler devices will not be compatible with the switch to the new networks and will need upgrading to new units or to have new global service mobile (GSM) phone lines fitted. If a change is not made, this has the potential to cause a safety issue in the event of lift breakdown and entrapment with the lack of emergency communications causing non-compliance and even the subsequent isolation and shutdown of the lift.

The solution

The network change is coming and if suitably prepared and planned it can be managed effectively. If any affected lift owners fail to switch to an alternative telecom system, or to modify or upgrade existing emergency response communication devices, they will be left without service from 2025.

What should a lift owner do?

Know what is happening in your area

Firstly, engage with your communication system specialist and find out when the existing infrastructure will be changing. During the PTSN migration, relevant services need to be tested with new IP technology. BT Openreach can provide line test facilities for existing equipment against their individual line configurations.

Consider the potential solutions for your lift communications
We would advise considering GSM integrated emergency auto-dialler devices or GSM gateway units to modify existing auto-diallers. They have many benefits as they don’t require a fixed line, data can be readily transmitted over the mobile network and the units are battery supported ensuring its alarm system can still work in the event of a power failure (as required by BS EN 81-28).

Check to see if you are going to be affected by 3G being turned off
Consideration also needs to be given to planned changes in the GSM infrastructure. There is a planned switch-off of the older 3G (and possibly 2G) systems for migration to 5G. Vodafone has announced they will switch off 3G in 2023, and all 2G and 3G are planned to be phased out by 2033. When upgrading or replacing lift communication equipment to address the BT 2025 switch-off, be careful to ensure that further costs won’t be accrued in future years associated to the GSM technology.

Know the issues
It is worth noting that a GSM communications solution does have some associated negative issues, mainly revolving around signal strength and connectivity. This can be addressed by using a roaming, non-steered subscriber identity module (SIM) which, rather than being tied to a single provider, can locate, and use the strongest network available. Identifying and fixing the unit in the part of the shaft or machine room that provides the strongest signal strength is also essential. Careful consideration must also be given to the SIM card being on contract or being on a prepaid/ top-up basis and to whom is responsible for ensuring this remains live.

If an existing auto-dialler system needs to be upgraded, provisions should be made to ensure any new system will provide an equivalent or increased level of safety. Since alarm systems may also have been installed to allow emergency communication from the top of car and the pit, these have to be retained and operational as originally fitted.

Give us a call
As the laws, standards and requirements for lift owners can be very confusing, our team of engineers can assist in surveying equipment and can offer advice on the most commercially viable and code compliant solutions. This can provide accurate budgeting and recommendations for the time period from now until 2025 and beyond.