On the list of endangered species: the wired home phone. No other technology has the universal market penetration like the wired home telephone does. But that’s coming to an end as The Economist points out in their August 15, 2009 edition.
At an increasing rate, people are saying “goodbye” to their wired home phone, and replacing it with their cell phone. They’re hanging up their landline at the astounding rate of about 700,000 per month.
For the first time last year, the number of people using only a mobile phone exceeded the number of people using only a wired phone (see figure 1). By the end of 2008, over 20% of the population was mobile phone only.
Many third world countries have leap-frogged over the need for a wired telephone infrastructure. A trip to Asia, Africa or the Middle East will quickly confirm the pervasiveness of cell phones. While traveling in Liberia, I was shocked to see people without running water, sewer services and electricity, but happily talking on their cell phone.
So what’s going on?
Well, there are a number of factors for this shift from hard-wire to no-wire:
- Transitory Population. Moving is a royal pain. At the top of the hassle list is the phone line: disconnecting, call forwarding, directory listing, meeting the new installer, security deposits… How much simpler moving gets when you carry your phone number with you to the new location! No one to notify, nothing to change.
By the way, Google Voice is making that even easier: one phone number for life! You can route phone calls to any number of destinations, even sending incoming calls to your home, cell and work numbers all at the same time! (well worth checking out the demo)
- Economic Pressures. Who’s not reevaluating every non-essential expense these days?! Around our house, the land line has become the receptacle of all second-tier friends and businesses. We just don’t think its worth the $25 per month to keep this dinosaur.
- Direct Connectedness. Mobile phones connect me directly with a person. When you dial a home phone, you’re calling a destination—hoping that your contact is home. But when you dial a cell phone, you’re calling a person and can, if need be, leave a message for that person.
Mobile phones also let you “ping” someone via text. Land lines don’t have that feature endemically.
- Integrated Services. I’ve never met someone who purchased an answering machine for their cell phone. But voice mail comes with every mobile phone as part of the basic service package. So does call-forwarding and caller ID, both of which are available on land lines, but typically at some additional cost.
On the other hand, there are some downsides to cutting the landline cord:
- Service Availability. Whenever I’m asked for a recommendation on a cell phone or mobile service provider, I always suggest trying the new hardware at home before committing to a two year contract (most providers have a 30-day out). Cell coverage may be spotty in certain areas—even certain areas of your home. At my house, it was clear AT&T turned off a (former) Cingular tower after the entities merged. One day, we suddenly had no more cell coverage at home. Those in the family who could migrated to Verizon.
- 911. When you dial emergency, the dispatcher immediately knows your location, even whether or not you can speak. That’s not true for mobile phones. The technology is changing for cell and IP phones, but it remains much more cumbersome than landline phones.
- Disaster Availability. Every home with a wired phone ought to have at least one instrument which doesn’t plug into the electrical outlet. We used to call them ‘princess’ phones—one which only connects to the landline outlet. The reason is that the phone company actually supplies power to the phone. Even if your electricity is out, you can still make a phone call through such a phone.
To unplug or not to unplug, that is the question!