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Landlines Are Obsolete in Less Than a Generation

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jackYesterday, when we moved my toddler to a “big-girl bed” — essentially a twin mattress on the floor of her room — I noted that I need to buy a faceplate to cover up the telephone jack, which is now at her eye level. And then I realized that the faceplate may never need to be removed because we, and likely the people who buy our house after we move, will have no need for a landline.

I still recall finally convincing my parents, less than two decades ago, that I needed my own phone line in my bedroom — an envy-inducing accessory for any teenage girl at the time. Now we debate at what age to give our children cell phones, and instead of all-night calls on three-way, teens use texting and Facebook.

I recall installing that very telephone jack I’m plating over; it was about five years ago, for my then-office as I prepared to work from home. Using my mobile phone as my sole office line would have been prohibitively expensive, since unlimited plans weren’t on offer, and my former employer didn’t reimburse reporters for their cell phones. Now my mobile phone is my only phone.

So the act of covering up the phone jack hit me much the same way it might hit a parent when their kid walks off to school without a look back. The telephone industry is growing up and moving on. Wireless isn’t just a balm for the bottom line, but an integral component to the future when tied to a fiber network.

One day I’ll have to tell my daughter about my phone that lit up when it rang, and that had a cord (!) which would get so snarled that I would have to sit with my head five inches from the phone’s base in order to take a call. And she’ll look at me the same way I look at my mom when she talks about her slide rule.

36 Responses to “Landlines Are Obsolete in Less Than a Generation”

  1. MissusZ

    My friend is a 911 operator in Dade County, Florida. She says 95% of the calls come in on cell phones, and needless time is spent ascertaining the caller’s location. I imagine this is true for most of the country. If adults can’t articulate where they are, kids can’t be expected to. Plus, in the Northeast, where I live, there are confusing street name changes, and areas where town names on mailing addresses don’t match the actual town of residence.

    • Joseph

      I pay 15.00 for a landline and 10.00 for Broadband on that landline which is a grand total of 25.00..I bet you cell phone users pay 3 times that much for the service I get with the old landline!
      So what is the advantage of a cellphone moneywise…NONE!
      I will bet 90% of you pay a hundred dollars a month or more for the internet and call capability..CRAZY!!!

  2. Each person in my family has a cell phone. We also have a “landline” for internet access mainly. Our phone service is on that same line. DSL uses your normal phone line (landline). Cable internet is a “landline”. Most people need a “landline” for good low cost internet service. A big portion of landline decrease is due to 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines to homes going away. Most cell phones did not work in Hurricane Katrina area which was a major problem during the rescue.Landline phones didn’t work either. During the last minor earth quake almost all cell phones stopped working. Almost all “landline ” phones remained working. Various reasons for this including but not limited to over loading of calls, lost of local tower power, tower damage, base station damage, etc. Cell phones use towers along with phone poles to relay service over a wide area. Currently 18% of homes in the US are completely wireless for phone service. Cost, speed,security and features will determine the fate of “landline” usage.

  3. The 911 and location issue is pretty much the only reason I will always have a landline. I’ve had to use 911 before when my wife took a spill and hit her head very hard on a bathtub, rendering her unconscious (plus some other frightening symptoms) It was the scariest moment of life. I remember gathering my thoughts as I scrambled to retrieve our cordless phone (knowing that i didnt want to chance a dropped cellular signal,i consciously passed on picking up my cell phone as i ran by it) and hit 911 — “OK, im going to need to tell these guys our address”.

    I truly believe that paramedics were on my way even before I finished explaining my wifes complete condition. I remember saying “Wait – I need to give your our address” and the operator telling me “we got it, you’re at ________. Right? Paramedics are on their way” I cant tell you had comforting that made me feel. It was the moment that I knew everything that would be OK. The knock on the door came about 5 minutes later.

    At the rist of rambling on, let me say this story turns out happily ever after. All is well with my wife. We’re leaving our life and fulfilling our dreams.

    Point of all this is that land line worked for me that day. I’ve never known it not to be able to make a call. I pick up the phone, dial the number and it goes thru with 100% success. I can not say that about cellular or VOIP of anything else.

    I consider my landline my personal hotline/Batphone to help. I will always be willing to pay for a little extra for immediate, no-fail-rate access to that help.

  4. True, but while disasters happen, most people won’t be dead center in the middle of a disaster. 911 via a POTS line at least in most areas guarantees someone knows where you’re calling from in an emergency. Until GPS is the defacto method of passing locations via e911, you’re still relying on your ability to tell someone where you are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely happy to have my cell phone…and my cordless telephone at home. But, it’ll probably be at least a generation (10-20 years) before I even consider getting rid of that POTS line at home.

    And, by the way, SMS is not a reliable method of communciation. It sure works right now but the spec doesn’t require or guarantee timely delivery of those messages. No doubt it’s a great way to get around the general shutdown of POTS circuits in a major disaster. But, I’m waiting for the day when we can use a combination of satellite, cell, wireless, etc. signals on a single device that’ll negotiate it for you and largely rely on the POISe (Plain Old Internet Service) to get any media to your destination.

  5. Stacey Higginbotham

    I hadn’t thought of kids being able to articulate their location with a cell phone although my daughter does know our address. Could she repeat in an emergency? I have no idea. However for those of you touting the landline’s resiliency in times of disaster, I’m not sure that home is where I would be during said times. In case of fires, hurricanes, etc. people tend to leave their homes. And even during Katrina, texts made it through on mobile networks even though voice didn’t. That was a good thing as each member of my family actually lost their homes so the home number didn’t help.

    But I don’t think we’ll see the absolute death of the landline for a long while, but it’s certainly not the must-have technology of my youth :)

  6. @mrz .. i 100% agree with mrz. The other day (when my 4 year old daughter was told how to dial 911 at her pre-school) i had the exact same conversation with my wife and she said the same thing as mrz. Kids know and find the house landline phone easily as compared to a cell phone (which we adults always tell kids NOT to touch and play with it)!

    Another use of a land line is that it always remind us of our grand-parents Halooooo :-)

  7. Hemant Golechha

    In India, the charges for text messages and calls are real cheap. Still, to reduce it further, some of us have 2 (I personally own 3) connections. One for cheap(est) text messages to stay connected with friends/relatives; one for calls (again best plan) and one for just my spouse & family…

    I have been using a cell for last 7 years; and seen the rates coming down drastically. (I have seen my dad pay even for incoming 10 years back, at the same rate as outgoing)

    What will be the future? The next generation would perhaps laugh at me when I speak about text messages (gladly my parents didn’t mind shifting to learning text messages, though they still are not fond of the internet).

  8. I’m actually a little surprised that, with a toddler in the house, you wouldn’t want a landline. I have a landline specifically so my five and three year old can use it in an emergency. Knowing that they only need to dial 911 and not have to articulate where they live in an emergency is worth the $20 I pay for it.

    It’s a lot easier to find the house landline phone than figure out where my cell phone (or my wife’s) might be in the house (hers is often in the car).

  9. Stacey, your analysis smacks of the recent myopia of mortgage bond raters. Just wait for the next earthquake… it’s going to be Keystone Cops mobile hilarity.

  10. It is too early to foresake the landline. Landlines are still more robust than mobile phones. It may take a major disaster for people to realize that mobile technology has not fully replaced landline infrastructure.

  11. Balaji

    You obviously don’t have an alarm at your home. If you did, you will definitely need a land line. Cell phones won’t work. In this economy with increasing crime rates, a home alarm is a must have.

    • TuringTestFailure

      My alarm company stated that the alarm could be operated wirelessly at no additional cost should I choose to get rid of my phone line. Then, my phone company reduced their rate by 70% when I called to cancel.

  12. Wasn’t this the big topic just ten years ago when people first started debating whether they needed POTS service with cell service spreading so fast? I had a colleague who actually didn’t activate POTS in their new home because he and his wife just used cell phones…until the day when we needed him at midnight for a high priority problem and he didn’t answer his cell…because he turned it off. He was forced to set up service the next day.

    Plus, with continued craptastic “usable” signal strength (thanks, AT&T for five bars of which only two seem to really be available to me) from most vendors and with most non-city-central communities (suburban to rural) still limited in terms of cell tower reach, you can shelve this debate for at least 10 years. In fact, start it up when cell service is as widespread and available as GPS and we can use those wonderful sats for communication. Oh wait, you’ll still need a POTS line…don’t forget the Sun doesn’t play fair all the time.

  13. Dragan

    There are many people who are not happy with the speech quality over their cell phones and at the same time very happy with their DSL connection. As a matter of fact, DSL lines are still the most often used medium for broadband connection in the world.

    Scale of wireless broadband deployment will always be behind wired technologies simply because the air is scarce and very expensive commodity and most of all very tough as a communication channel.

    The hybrid solutions such as DSL/Cable + FemtoCell may be the ultimate winners bringing the best of both worlds.

  14. thatericguy

    While I understand the basic point of this article, the fact is that most people who have this frame of mind forget or have never been in times of emergency. That antiquated copper line in your house maybe your only link to others when all else fails. I live near the coast where we tend to have the threat of hurricanes or tropical storms each year. And during these storms, the cell towers are prone to power loss issues which puts those who are completely wireless in potentially serious danger. Until there is an easy to adopt alternative for emergency communication, the old tried and true rg-11 phone line is here to stay.

  15. The purpose for me getting a land line back then was to run a BBS.

    I agree with the previous comments regarding competition. There is none and because of that the telcos have no incentive to deploy fiber.

  16. It happens with almost everybody. We installed landline phones in our homes around 10 years back. Now every member of the family has got a cell-phone.

    Technology always moves on acceleration based and not on speed based alone. Good topic.

  17. it will not only be the landline that goes away but wired internet as well. while i understand the challenges of providing all the needed bandwidth wirelessly i also believe this will be overcome(by a combination of new technologies, more towers and more radio frequencies) i also believe that contrary to what i read on all the tech blogs speed is not the main issue. in fact i believe most users would take a pretty big cut in download/upload speeds if they could get a unlimited works anyplace wireless data plan a a reasonable price(similar to what they pay now for low tier cheap cable/DSL). and just like with cell phones these users will be ‘cutting the cord’ except much quicker than with the landlines.

  18. Davin Peterson

    I remember from the ’90s sitcom Full House the episode that DJ wanted her own phone line to talk to friends. My how technology has evolved in the last 20 years or even the last decade.

  19. Bob Perdriau

    The issue is not the landline. The issue is the landline is made of copper. Were the landline made of glass such that it could serve as the single link to your home for everything electronic we would not be having this silly discussion.

    You are drinking the telecom and cable cool aid. Why are we still promulgating cable TV technology? Why are we still using copper telephone lines? This is the best example I can think of that the free market does not work. I won’t live to see the implementation of technologies more than 3 decades old that would improve my life and the future of the country – because of the “free market”.