PHONE WARS: Cell vs. Landline - News, Weather & Sports

PHONE WARS: More people drop landlines for cell phones

(RNN) - While no one can predict the future, history proves that people will virtually always choose a method that is more convenient, more efficient and more cost effective.

Cell phones seem to win that battle on all fronts. But does that mean that the landline phone is on a virtual deathbed?

This is the first of three stories in a series that explores the place of both cell phones and landline phones and how each will co-exist moving forward.


As cell phones become sharper and more powerful, so do people's demand for their use.

It is safe to say they have helped shape the world's culture.

The technology that people can hold in the palm of their hand has made immediate impacts on the economy, media, entertainment and even the family structure.

Asking people younger than 30 to imagine the world without cell phones would be akin to asking people older than 50 to imagine the world without the Vietnam War.

Findings listed in the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a gradual drift toward dropping home phones, or landlines.

Between 2006 and 2009, the number of people who had landlines and no cell phones decreased by half. Between 2009 and 2009, those with cell phones and no landline grew from 25 percent to 30 percent.

Dropping the (home) phone

Why would someone want to drop their homes phones?

"Cell phone only, and no unwanted calls," said Mike Bullard in a Facebook post. "Plus with a smartphone you can get weather updates and warnings. Why spend the extra money? You're going to need it for gas."

Convenience is one of the most powerful driving factors behind the trend.

People find it hard to resist a personal assistant, day planner, media player, web browser and link to almost every person in their lives that fits inside a single device they can slide into their pockets.

"It's what customers want," said AT&T spokeswoman Sue Sperry. "It's what customers are relying on, a phone and computer in their hand."

It is the economy, however, that is making the most significant impact on people's choice to drop their landline phones.

According to the NHIS report, the tendency to exclusively use cell phones increased among people who earn lower incomes or rent their homes.

More than 4 million people lost their homes to foreclosure from 2006 through 2011, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.

A Harvard University study showed more than 10 million renters in this country spend at least half of their pre-tax income on rent and utilities.

America's current economic trouble has forced many people to choose between buying medicine and buying food.

That kind of predicament makes it more convenient to drop excess bills.

Several people who responded to a Facebook poll by WTVM said axing the home phone was a no-brainer.

"I got rid of our landline about six months ago," Tarina Wyatt stated. "Our cell phones work great, and we're saving money; definitely a win-win situation."

When tradition meets technology

Not everyone has eagerly jumped on board the wireless explosion.

The biggest resistance seems to come from businesses or large organizations rather than individual consumers.

It is hard to imagine a typical office without corded phones sitting on desks. However, businesses these days are just as concerned about saving money as the average family, and many families cite the financial benefits of dropping their landline phones.

There is an answer to almost every defense of the traditional phone in business.

Need it to send and receive faxes? Scan documents and email them as PDFs.

Like the flexibility of having two lines? Some wireless providers can set up multiple numbers on the same cell phone.

For now, though, going strictly wireless seems to be a more plausible solution for small businesses.

"For people who work from home as their principal work space, those people have to make the decision whether to use both a wired and wireless phone, or one or the other," said Verizon spokesperson Bill Kula.

Kula went on to say that traditional phones will remain a staple in large offices, mainly because of the ability to track and route an influx of calls.

Several other things ensure that landline phones have a secure place in businesses and homes.

For instance, many emergency response services and home security companies still require landline telephones.

You don't have to worry about which pair of pants or jacket you left it in, roaming or signal strength.

In many rural areas, there is not yet adequate infrastructure to support wireless phone signals.

Even in metropolitan areas with ample coverage, certain types of building materials or radio interference can kill signals.

Beyond that, the perception exists that people who do not primarily, or even exclusively, use cell phones at home are old fashioned and getting left behind.

But landline phones still hold the edge in reliability and call clarity.

And most people might be shocked to know how tightly intertwined cell phones and hardline systems are.

"The cell network depends on the wired network," said Sperry. "People don't realize this. Cell calls depend on the landline network. It's the same for all carriers. Cell calls have to be switched and identified."

Mobile switching centers make it possible to control the flow of cell phone calls. They operate like automated versions of telephone switchboards that phone companies used in the early 1900s to manually re-direct calls. There is one major exception – the entire process now happens in less than a second.

The automated switching system is all the more necessary with cell phones because they are not in a fixed location.

That means traditional phones, in some form or another, are safe for a long time.

"Regular landline service isn't going away any time soon, but it certainly is shrinking," Sperry said.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved. Additional sources: WBRC Facebook page.

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