Are Landlines Doomed to Extinction?

Category: Telephony

Millions of people are cutting the cords of landline phone service and switching to cellular or VoIP (Voice-over-Internet Protocol). If you’re one of the holdouts, you may be forced to give up you copper-based phone line in the next 5 to 10 years. Here is why landlines are doomed, and a look at four alternatives so commonplace you can buy them at Walmart…

Landline Alternatives May Soon Be The Only Alternatives

Forty-three percent of U.S. adults lived in households served only by cell phones as of June, 2014. The chart below (courtesy of Pew Research) shows how the wireless-only trend has accelerated since 2008. But that’s only part of the story.

A report from Statista shows the number of households using VoIP devices (Vonage, Ooma, Magic Jack, etc.) since 2011. There are 20.5 million as of Spring, 2015, or 16% of all U. S. households. Certainly, there must be many households that have both cellular and VoIP service; but the point is that both have made serious dents in landline subscriber numbers, and the trend lines are clearly pointing upwards.

I can’t even estimate the number of cable customers who have given up their traditional landlines in favor of “voice over cable” service. Many have done so without even realizing it. If you’re using phone service that’s bundled with cable TV and Internet service, you’re using VoiP even if it’s delivered via a hardwired cable modem.
Landline telephone network obsolete? But many cable customers take the “triple play” only because it’s the cheapest option, and continue to use their traditional landlines. In the near future, we may not have that ability.

AT&T, Verizon, and other telephone companies want to ditch the POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) and move everyone to either cellular or VoIP services. The copper wire network that first came into widespread use in the late 19th century is ancient and deteriorating. Telcos don’t want to spend money maintaining a network that customers are abandoning in ever-increasing numbers. So the telcos are trying to end POTS service.

The FCC and the States are inclined to go along. So the writing is on the wall; traditional landlines will be unavailable in most of the USA within 5-10 years. Fortunately, there are plenty of landline alternatives like these:

Some Landline Alternatives to Consider

wireless only households Vonage: a pioneer of residential VoIP, Vonage provides a “Vonage adapter” - actually, a router optimized for VoIP - that plugs into your broadband modem. Then you plug a traditional phone (or cordless phone base station) into the Vonage adapter. The Vonage adapter requires its own power supply from an AC outlet. Right now, the adapter is free and service is $9.99/month for the first 12 months; if you keep Vonage longer, the price is $24.99 per month.

Ooma Telo: provides an adapter, like Vonage, into which any regular phone can be plugged. Ooma’s pricing model is virtually the opposite of Vonage’s. The Ooma adapter costs $129.99 ($114.00 at Walmart) while the basic service is free. So after the initial investment, you pay almost nothing on a monthly basis. (You’ll still pay about $3.50 per month in taxes and fees to the government.) Ooma even encrypts your calls while their data travels over the Internet. Various hardware accessories and a Premier plan can boost your upfront and monthly cost.

Magic Jack Go: is an unassuming little dongle about the size of two USB drives side by side. One end sports a USB connector; the other has jacks for Ethernet and telephone cables (RJ-45 and RJ-11, respectively). You can use a supplied Ethernet cable to connect the Magic Jack directly to a cable or DSL modem, or plug the USB connector into an available port on an Internet-connected PC. The hardware costs $59.95 ($39.95 until January 9, 2016) and includes a year of free service. After that, you pay just $35 per year, or $99.75 for five years.

Straight Talk Home Phone is not a VoIP service, like all the others discussed above. Straight Talk Wireless is a reseller of Verizon cellular service. Straight Talk’s Home Phone device is a cellular base station. Just place it in your home where it gets a strong cellular signal, then plug your corded phone or cordless base station into it. Your calls are relayed from the base station to cell towers and back. The Home Phone base station costs $49.88 at Walmart. Monthly service is $15 for unlimited domestic calling, or $30 adds Canada, Mexico, India, and other countries.

With each of these options, your existing home phone number can be transferred (or "ported") to the new service, so people can continue to reach you on the same number.

What About Emergencies?

Some security systems still rely on landlines to contact emergency services. But modern ones use cellular connectivity. And even if you have VoIP phone service, you can still make 911 calls. When you register with Vonage or another VoIP provider, you must register your residential address with the company, which is used when a 911 call is made.

Power issues are another concern. When the electricity fails, landlines typically continue to operate, as long as the lines (and your home) are not damaged by a storm. Most residential VoIP providers offer some sort of battery backup, but it's limited to about 8 hours. In a severe or extended emergency where both landline and VoIP are unavailable, a cell phone that you can charge in your car is a must, and may be your only option.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Are Landlines Doomed to Extinction?"

(See all 48 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

28 Dec 2015

I really wish you'd get off this "anti-landlines" kick. The primary, if not only, reason the major telecoms want to get rid of landlines (copper) is because they fall under different & more stringent telecommunications regulations. Regulations that are MUCH more beneficial to us consumers! This wouldn't be as big an issue if they replaced all copper with fiber, but they're only doing that in heavily populated areas (& very, very slowly). In rural areas, the telecoms are replacing landlines, including those with DSL, with cellular comm. This truly sucks for Internet users, with extremely large fee increases & minuscule bandwidth caps. Right now, DSL is pretty much the only competitor to cable & what little fiber is out there. DSL over copper is theoretically capable of 100+Mbps and 40Mbps is common now in many areas of the country. We need more, not fewer, competitors to cable - and DSL is pretty much the only competitor out there. DSL serves MANY, MANY consumers in localities where cable is not available. Getting rid of landlines has resulted in much worse Internet connectivity for those affected by these decisions. Just my two cents worth...

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm not anti-landline. I'm just making people aware of changes that are coming, and alternatives that are available now. If landlines disappear, it won't be my fault. :-)

Posted by:

28 Dec 2015

I cut Ma Bell a few years ago with the purchase of MagicJack, then MJ plus. Several months ago, the quality of the calls deteriorated and the device had to be rebooted at least once a day. We never knew when we would miss a call. I finally switched to NetTalkDuo. Customer service is as bad a MJ's but we have not had any problems so far.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2015

@Walt, I still have an old dial pulse handset in the basement that I use when we have a power outage but I wonder how long the telcos will maintain the battery banks to power the system vs going to AC to Dc power supplies that will be useless in a power outage.

Posted by:

28 Dec 2015

Bob, "doomed to extinction" is exactly right.

If 50% of phone users have stopped using POTS, the remaining 50% have to pay twice the cost per line to maintain the service. Increasing the price drives away more users, so you have a classic death spiral.

Business lines are probably closer to 90% VOIP, so consumers are picking up that loss of revenue as well.

And since most people with land lines also have cell phones, the cost of POTS is not an either-or, but a both-and.

Doomed to extinction indeed. As surely as ice deliveries in the summer and coal deliveries in the winter.

Posted by:

29 Dec 2015

Ok, all those VOIP services are fine, but I make and receive clear calls over VOIP entirely FREE.

There was a $60 one-time cost to get the equipment, but after that I only pay for my usual Internet access. That's all!

Here's how: (1) Get a free Google Voice number. (2) Purchase an OBIhai OBi200 VoIP Telephone Adapter from Walmart for $46 (3) Purchase an ordinary telephone, either hard-wired or cordless. I got a nice Vtech cordless from for $14.

You plug the OBIhai unit into your modem or router, you plug the phone into the OBIhai unit and then login to your Google Voice number and set up Google Chat and you've got a working phone with dial tone. Works great, and no extra monthly charge!

Posted by:

29 Dec 2015

I believe it will happen, but not in the 5 to 10 year timeframe. There is still the need to keep POTS/PSTN around for some time particularly in the rural and other out of the way places. But on the other hand, since the telcos are pushing to phase out POTS' aging infrastructure, they'll seek to raise the price of POTS to force people to VoIP and IP alternatives. The justification is that when there were millions of subscribers, the cost could be spread amongst an number of subscribers. But when you get to a very low number of subscribers, the cost needs to be spread amongst the smaller group and thus the price has to go up. Or the worst case is that the IP altneratives would have to subsidize POTS and that is what I don't want to happen. While the US government maybe taking a hands off approach, the PUC (which tends to be by State) still has a say.

Posted by:

29 Dec 2015

I see there are no shortages of POTS believers. It seems to me it is about like the progressive thinkers have to remove it if it always works.
I have UVERSE and MJ and do like the clarity but there is always the what if. You can't call a cell if the tower is down from a POTS anyhow.

Posted by:

29 Dec 2015

Seriously, being forced to cut the cord to my landline would be to cut off the only RELIABLE way I've been able to communicate over the years.
Sure, there have been times the phone lines were down, but for every time that's happened, there have been at least 10 times as many internet outages in the same period of time. Just yesterday, Time Warner suffered a coast to coast outage that has yet to be totally explained.
Also, landlines have much better call quality than cell phones.
Can you hear me now?

Posted by:

29 Dec 2015

Great reading re landline phones. I'm a senior and have disconnected from Cable TV - I have Roku. I have a cell phone that's okay but I don't live near any towers so service is not the best. Guess I'll have to see what time brings but if they discontinue my landline I will be one grizzly old lady bear. I embrace technology (just bought a dash cam) but there is nothing as reliable as my landline. And that's that! Happy New Year....

Posted by:

29 Dec 2015

I hope you're wrong on this one. I live 3 miles from a town of 12k in Missouri and can only get 3mb DSL. There is no cable and with the amount of data I use there is no way cell or satellite is an option due to cost. There are many places within a 20 mile radius of me that have no or spotty cell service, copper is their only choice.

Posted by:

Sarah L
29 Dec 2015

I agree with Eleanor Forman. Land lines work so well, clear connections and no dropped calls. We give it up for poor connections, often must ask, can you repeat that? And more expensive for the consumer. I know my phone company wants to push us off the copper wires, and pushes many to VOIP when they did not know it. One friend reports the calls over VOIP with the fiber optic cable as having echoes and other problems of poor quality acoustics. Duplicate systems are much wiser, storms take lines down, more often electricity than copper phone wires.

Posted by:

29 Dec 2015

thanks for all the info you send i read every one thanks again harry

Posted by:

John Smart
29 Dec 2015

Verizon forced us to cut our copper lines last year for the FIOS based line. The issue at hand is our security system is now vulnerable to cutting since the FIOS box now sits on our lawn and the lines are only buried 6 inches and not 24 inches per the copper lines. Someone made a bad choice here since the copper line system is the most reliable and secure lines. Verizon is now talking about a 10 digit phone number even for local calls. The current local call numbers are 7. The FIOS system can go down in a heart beat especially during a severe power outages. In the 40 plus years we lived out here, we have never ever had phone outages even during severe ice storms and blizzards. During a recent snow storm, the power was knocked out for days. Do you think FIOS survived? Not on your life and that is what we are talking here! The FIOS based phone system is crap!! It is unreliable and the NYState PSC knows this and continues to allow the removal of landlines. And if one thinks that Cellular is more reliable. Guess not for when the power goes down so does the cell phones. Now if we had satellite phone service, maybe this would be more reliable!

Posted by:

30 Dec 2015

I still have a landline for a couple of reasons. One is that the quality of calls is consistently high, whereas mobile and VoIP are not. The second, more important, is emergencies. I have a disability and need to have access to reliable, consistence phone service. In the big blackout of 2003, mobile networks weren’t working, and people very quickly ran out of juice on their mobile, whereas I had access to my phone. As well, cable modems break down. Quite frequently. As far as I can see, this move away from landline’s has serious implications for people who are poor, disabled, seniors, or otherwise vulnerable.

Posted by:

Rhonda Lea Kirk Fries
30 Dec 2015

I wouldn't be without a landline. When my daughter considered getting rid of hers, I pointed out all the reasons why a single mother with a small child needs one. Cell phones are convenient, but they are not yet reliable in the way that a landline phone is.

Here's an interesting read on the subject by NPR. The CDC is actually tracking landline vs cell phone use, and the conclusions are informative:

Posted by:

Michael Stein
05 Jan 2016

Costco is offering the"Ooma Telo Air Phone System" online for $109.99 including shipping and handling until January 17th. Of course, always read the fine print, but it's worth checking out.

Posted by:

07 Jan 2016

I live in BC, CANADA. I've had a landline with Telus since 1975. I also have my Internet with Telus. Since both travel over the Hydro Pole system, why would Telus want to drop their Landline service. This does not compute nor is it logical. I also have my cell phone with Koodo Mobile, which is a Subsidiary of Telus. I cannot see Telus dropping their POT,s service.

Posted by:

17 Jan 2016

There are still many people living in rural areas that have no other reliable phone option except POTS. They are need it for Internet service via their telco's DSL service as many areas have no other good option available. Cable companies won't spend the money to build to them and wireless is iffy at best.

Posted by:

28 Jun 2017

Our ONT in RI was placed inside in the basement. None of the inside copper was removed, just connected to the ONT. You should have asked to have the FiOS equipment placed indoors, but it seems too late for that. In the beginning, we did have to dial 10 digits for all calls, but I just tried a 7 digit local call and it went through, like always. Maybe you can move it your self, it is only 4 wires.

Posted by:

18 Dec 2018

Hi Bob, one thing you didn't address in this article is the number of BUSINESSES still using landlines. Until someone comes up with a system that wirelessly works for new callers to a business looking for information or otherwise needing to get in touch with the stores, insurance companies, attorneys, call centers for ordering products (ie, from TV ads or catalogs or needing information about merchandise or services advertised online), and many many other businesses providing services and products, WE WILL STILL HAVE LANDLINES OF SOME TYPE OR ANOTHER. I haven't seen any progress towards totally mobile (ie, cell) systems that link together various individuals' mobile phones to a single number (such as a business might have which in turn will link one to multiple offices in a business). I do know companies have created business phone routing systems that connect to voice service VOIP, and some will still use the desk phones already in place. So, there's gonna still be the need for physical infrastructure to keep the systems running -- ie fiber optics, copper wiring, coax, etc.

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