With the 2025 analogue to digital switchover getting ever closer, TEC Cymru telecare lead, Aaron Edwards, was asked his thoughts on if the Welsh telecare sector was ready.
Commenting on the aspect of connectivity following the recent TSA ITEC Conference, he said:
“One of the main issues in the telecommunications industry is not having the correct levels of infrastructure in place for the telecare sector to maximise digital connectivity.
“As such we still have significant ‘black spots’ in Wales, where not even 2G signal is attainable. This will become a real issue once a telecare user’s analogue line is discontinued. If the user is served by an ARC not capable of receiving digital calls, then an adaptor can be used to transmit the calls, but this should always be seen as a short-term fix.”
On the topic of Telecare ARC’s in Wales, he added:
“All 7 ARCs in Wales must make the transition to digital connectivity (IP). This will ensure those who live in poor signal areas, can generate an alarm call from their telecare alarm using their broadband router to carry the signal.
“We have been advocating for a dual path method of communication in Wales for some time. This will mean that someone with a digital line will still be able to use mobile signalling (GSM) in the event of a power cut, of course this won’t be the case for those with no GSM signal in their homes.
“In the current analogue state, the telecare lifeline alarm receives a minimum 50v power via the PSTN line. In the event of a power cut, the alarm has a minimum of 24hrs battery back-up, so service providers are still able to monitor the service user.”
Explaining the issue with relying solely on a digital voice line, Edwards said:
“In the event of a power cut; and without the 50v power from the exchange, the router used to carry the signal only has 1hr battery back-up. This makes it essential for communication providers to develop a means of ensuring sufficient battery back-up contingency.”
This is why TEC Cymru has been prioritising getting Welsh telecare Alarm Receiving Centre’s (ARCs) upgraded to digital ahead of the 2025 deadline.
“We must ensure that digital telecare is the kick-starter for wider integration between health and care, where data and trends are explored to ultimately keep people safer and in their own home for longer,” Edwards commented.
“This makes the service user the most important aspect in the migration. As such, we have to do everything in our power to ensure that any disruptions in the migration process are kept to a minimum and that the potential benefits ‘beyond digital’ are explored.
“The switchover is step one in my opinion, not the end goal.”
In achieving this ahead of the 2025 deadline, Edwards says TEC Cymru has been looking at how Wales can learn from the other home nations in achieving a collective UK wide vision for the roll out.
“Scotland has done some fantastic work and we are proud to have an active collaboration arrangement in place with the Digital Office for Scottish Local Government, where we share information to ensure consistency across both programmes.”
Reflecting on how Wales differs around digital connectivity with the rest of the UK, Edwards said:
“Admittedly, Wales is smaller than the other home nations. We currently have 77,500 approximate telecare service users, and seven ARCs that handle telecare alarm calls. In comparison, Scotland has 22 ARCs and England over 150.”
That said Edwards is in favour of regular engagement. He commented:
“We have regular 6-weekly meetings with all telecare service leads in Wales. We also promote active engagement, dedicated support, a website with a Resource Centre and access to subject matter expertise to drive the transition in Wales.”
In conclusion Edwards added:
“I believe we should first get the infrastructure right and focus on the telecare equipment (base alarms, mobile telecare solutions etc.) as we migrate. By getting the seven Welsh ARCs upgraded to digital, we can then start to explore the different types of available digital telecare kit to improve the quality of lives for Welsh citizens.
“However, we must ensure that both analogue and digital kit are tested fully when we carry out ARC upgrades. We’re on track to complete the first digital ARC migration in Wales with the Vale of Glamorgan Council in the next few months.”
Edwards believes that going forward, ARCs will still need to operate in a hybrid fashion and be capable of handling calls on both the digital and analogue networks prior to an intensive retrofitting exercise across Wales when service providers upgrade users’ in-home equipment. He said:
“This will ensure the service user isn’t adversely affected by the migration and that the robust, reliable nature of telecare alarm calls being received isn’t compromised.”