Can VoIP Service Replace Your Landline?

Category: Telephony

A reader asks: 'I have a landline and a cell phone, so I'm thinking of dropping the landline phone in favor of VoIP phone service, to save some money. What is your opinion of VoIP, and what are the pros and cons of using it to replace a traditional landline?'

Is It Time to Drop Your Landline?

In tough economic times, folks are looking to cut expenses any way they can. Many are even eyeballing that telephone handset on the counter, wondering if they really need a traditional wired landline anymore. Quite a few have decided that they don't, opting to replace it with VoIP telephone service, which uses an Internet connection to make and receive phone calls. Is VoIP (Voice over IP) the right choice for you?

Let's start by de-geekifying the terminology. When you see “VoIP” or “Internet telephony” just replace it in your mind with “Internet Calling.” In a nutshell, here's how it works. VoIP connects your phone to the Internet via your high-speed internet connection (DSL, cable or fiber optic.) Instead of plugging into your local phone company's wall jack, you plug your phone line into a VoIP adapter. The adapter plugs into your computer or Internet modem/router and converts the signal from your phone into data that travels over the Internet.

VoIP Phone Services

The advantage of these VoIP services is that you can pay a lot less, and you don't have to change anything about the way you make and receive calls. You'll continue to use the same telephone handsets, and in most cases, you can even continue to use the same phone number.

The landline market in the U.S. has been shrinking steadily for about ten years. The number of homes with a landline only is now below 8%, and some phone companies are mulling whether it's time to stop offering landline service altogether. Two newer technologies are replacing landlines: cellular phones and VoIP .

By comparison, the residential VoIP market is young. Vonage, one of the oldest players, was founded in 2001. Vonage has about 2.5 million subscribers worldwide. Most analysts agree that residential VoIP started taking off in 2004, when cable companies such as Comcast and Time Warner began to offer bundled services including VoIP, TV, and Internet access. Over 90 percent of residential VoIP "lines" are provided by cable companies.

For those who already have high-speed internet (DSL, cable or fiber), dropping that expensive landline can be very tempting. The unpredictability of the monthly phone bill, along with all those mysterious taxes and fees, bring many consumers to a boiling point. Vonage offers unlimited local and long distance calling in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico for $24.99 per month. Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, and other service providers offer flat-rate VoIP calling at similar price points.

Other options such as Skype, Google Voice and Magic Jack offer VoIP phone service for less, and even for free in some cases. See my related articles Free Internet Phone Calls and Magic Jack Phone Service to learn more about these alternatives.

Switching to VoIP: Pro and Con

Cost alone does not dictate that everyone should ditch their landlines for VoIP. VoIP is more vulnerable to power outages than landline service is. The traditional telephone wires are powered separately from the general electrical grid. So when the lights go out, your landline will probably still work. That's one good reason to keep a landline even after adding VoIP service. But the problem is also solved by having a mobile phone, at least until the battery runs out.

The 911 emergency service works very consistently with landlines, but can be problematic with VoIP. A landline terminates at a fixed location. When you call 911 from a landline, your location is automatically and surely transmitted to the emergency response center. But since they are not traditional phone services, VoIP providers do not have to provide emergency 911 calling. However, many of them will enroll you in what's known as Voluntary 911 Service. VoIP providers can use your billing address, or provide you with some other means of giving your physical address, which is used to associate your phone number with your physical location, in the emergency 911 database.

If you move, or you temporarily change the location of your VoIP phone, it's your responsibility to update the E911 address location information. And of course you won't have the ability to make 911 calls in the event of an Internet connection failure, or if you lose electrical power at your location. You should always have an alternative means of accessing 911 or similar emergency services, such as a landline telephone, mobile phone or a neighbor. Some people just don't want that kind of uncertainty when their lives may be on the line, so that's a consideration when deciding whether or not to go with a VoIP-only phone solution for your home.

A good inexpensive compromise might be VoIP service backed up by a prepaid or pay-as-you-go cell phone. See my related article Are Prepaid Wireless Phones a Good Deal? to check out several options. Your thoughts on VoIP service are welcome! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Can VoIP Service Replace Your Landline?"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Fred Barnett
14 Nov 2013

I have been using Ooma VoIP for 4 years. Cost $130. Then no phone bill. Save $35 a month over a landline

Posted by:

Paul Breaux
14 Nov 2013

I've had a Google Voice account, since Voice came out of BETA, some years back. That has been my method of making long-distance phone calls here in USA and CANADA, for free, if I'm calling a number I have to pay for calling. But I had a land line, which was handy, since Voice offers no 911 services. But a few months ago, I decided to switch to a much faster internet provider, and decided to try VOIP and Voice, for my calling.

I bought an OBIHAI 202, to add to the system I was trying to create, and got a free 911 plan from an SIP. Eveything was run through a direct connection to a CISCO GATEWAY Router/Modem, and it worked fine, besides the changes in thinking about what I had when I called, but that was all..., EXCEPT my incoming and outgoing calls, NO LONGER WORKED, being dropped every 7 or 8 days. The only way I had to notice this, is if I went to call someone, after hearing my home phone dial out, the connection was NEVER MADE, so I knew I had lost my service. With a straight pin, I'd restart the Gateway back to factory standards, and I had my phone service back. My provider, COX tried everything they could to correct it, changing all my fiber connection cable back to the outside switch box, but it didn't stop the periodic loss of the phone service, to my home phone.

I finally decided to get phone service, directly from COX for my home, and still use Voice for long distance calling. COX switched out the Cisco Gateway, and instead put a smaller Cisco modem, AND a Netgear Router, and so far, my phone service, through COX, has gave me no trouble, and I have the 911 service back again. I have a cell phone, so I at least had some sort of phone service, when mine went out, but trying to get it this way, FOR FREE, didn't always work.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

One of our sons gave us an Ooma phone several years back for Christmas. No problems, no fees at all(the original ones didn't have any monthly charges). Our landline is long gone and not missed. 911 does know our location. I like that a device can also hook the house phones in w/my cell number too so they will ring, tho the Bluetooth is not the clearest connection that way.

With our cell phones we don't have access problems the rare instances that the VOIP is out. With all of the storms I see lately on the news, I guess we will opt for a solar charger also.

Of course, cell towers can be down in the case of a natural disaster (or overwhelmed). However, so can landlines. My sister's landline has acted up for years if it gets too hot(CA) and the company keeps saying there is no problem. My in-laws landline had problems every time it rained. SO landlines are not the definitive answer either.

You can't protect against every contingency, but you can plan to be prepared.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

Another viable option is an ATA adapter (such as Linksys PAP2T) if you are technologically inclined. Service is available at for 99 cents for a DID (your phone number) and a per minute charge of .005 (half a cent a minute) with free LD calls in North America. I bought a PAP2T off of ebay for less than $30. I had problems initially setting it up but the support at is very good. It generally takes about ten minutes for them to help you fix your problem. The features included are amazing including IVR (a digital receptionist) and something they call DISA which allows me to call into my number from a cell phone, enter a code and password and then call long distance for free. I have had the service since March and total paid for two voice lines and all calls is about $38.00 (this includes a $1.50 charge per month for E911 service). There is also a charge (think it is $10 one time) to port your current number to the service. My suggestion would be to get a second number until such time as everything is setup to your liking and then port your number. The prices above are Canadian prices but you can check the rates etc. before actually signing up.
Also with any VOIP solution you should set up a QOS (quality of service) to reserve a small portion of your broadband signal to VOIP. This will stop the stutter in audio you sometimes hear from MagicJacks and other VOIP solution providers.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

One thing about land/VOIP lines is if someone wants to talk to anyone in my family of 5, they can call 1 number. They don't have to cycle through all the cell phone numbers to get someone to answer.

Posted by:

Mic hael Cain
14 Nov 2013

I have been an Ooma customer for 3 years now, and really like it. The initial cost of the telco device may seem high at $149 (or less if on sale) but my monthly bill is only $3.75. That includes local and long distance calling in the US along with voicemail and caller id. Call forwarding and other services are available for very a reasonable price. The call quality is great. Calls sound just as good as when my service was through AT&T. The only time it goes out is when my internet is down.

Posted by:

Whitney Keen
14 Nov 2013

We use Vonage for our business phone but found it did not work well for faxes (for which we use an internet fax company incoming and a landline-based fax machine for outgoing). Vonage has worked well most of the time, but we do not expect to drop our landline for safety and reliability reasons. I also have a cell phone, which I use when traveling, but rarely have it turned on when I am at home.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

Bob, you may or may not know about "ObiTalk".
I've been using Obi for 3+ years and have not paid a landline phone bill since. That's $0 per month.
Obi is like a total telephone company in a tiny VOIP box. Too many feature to mention here.
Obi does not offer "911", but that can be added to your service by these guys "Bulk911" for $12 per year.
So with my Obi ($0/mth) and Bulk911 I get a complete/polished telephone system with 911 for $1/mth. I have never had a downtime using Obi except during power outages, which is the same with all VOIP service (FIOS & Comcast & others).
Go check it out.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

Good useful and helpful topic, comprehensively and excellently covered (as per usual) 5 star rating - author nominated for a place in human heaven or similar or oblivion where I'll be by the time we get comprehensive broadband in Oz ... onya Bob!

Posted by:

Kaye Johnson
14 Nov 2013

I have the Ooma phone system, purchased after reading good reviews about it in Consumer Reports magazine.
You do have an initial outlay of approximately $150 or less, but monthly phone bill is way less than $10.00.It paid for itself in less than 6 months. One does need a computer to use Ooma, but the computer doesn't need to remain on.
I love it & highly recommend it.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

I need the uninterrupted availability of a land line. I have no problem using VOIP, Skype and cell phones, but the self-identifying access to 911 and the reliability of a land line more than justify the relatively minor cost of keeping it. I even keep one wired phone for use in case the electric service goes down.

My cell service went out during the NYC blackout in 2003. I used a street phone (remember those?) to call my wife and arrange for her to pick me up after I had walked from Rockefeller Center in midtown down to and across the Brooklyn Bridge.

Posted by:

Kit Kimes
14 Nov 2013

Yes, I also have been paying for all three (MagicJack, landline & cell) for a few years now. Just last month I ported my landline number over to my MagicJack Plus for $29 and $10/year to keep my landline number.

I can no longer use my pacemaker modem for a checkup at home but the cost is the same if I go into the Doctor's office and it is nearby. I can't use dialup for my TiVo service either but I use an internet connection now for that, so all is good.

Overall, it saves me $40 to $70 a month to not have a land line.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

I live in Canada, here we have two sets of gangsters for phones TV satellite cable Internet, the best thing in the world for me was to tell both sets to remove my landlines, I have been with Vonage for several years I have stuck with them in spite of friends and acquaintances saying they pay less. Why have I stuck with them? I have no problems, my friends and acquaintances say that their reception is perfect 80% percent of the time, mine is perfect one hundred percent of the time. I want to get rid of my cell phone, oh yes I heard is good in an emergency, but the hands-free on Star my car, has no problems if the lights go out.
IPhone Europe regularly one week I had seven one-hour calls to UK, no charge. That was worth $1 million to me.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

I switched to Ooma about a year ago and couldn't be happier: also have a cell phone. No dropped calls, no static, voice is crystal clear. I'm saving $45.00 a month. Wish I had done this years ago!

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
14 Nov 2013

As a minor timing coincidence, my company is currently in the process of switching over to VOIP. I just got my new VOIP phone yesterday. The rationale is pretty straightforward: The company will save a fortune on internal calls which don't have to be routed through the phone company. The system will be integrated with other email and calendar and instant messaging services. It will be more secure, especially against outages (our company has backup power generators).

Of course many of these advantages won't apply to individuals seeking to replace their home land-lines. But clearly VOIP is no longer just a niche market, but rather something that big companies are willing to depend on.

Posted by:

14 Nov 2013

If you have a monitored alarm system (fire, security, etc.), a landline is still required; at least it is by our alarm company.

We have TW cable for internet, TV, and one of our phone lines. Cable/phone go down so often (1+x/week), I would never rely on them to be there in an emergency. (Cannot understand people who use them for their security systems!) As any VOIP phone would only be as reliable as our TW cable service, a basic landline is still a necessity for peace of mind in our household.

Posted by:

Mr. Too
14 Nov 2013

One con not mentioned, when I did the switch, AT&T disconnected my Internet when my number was ported over to a VOIP service. So I was without phone and Internet for about a week before the problem was sorted. After a complaint with FCC, problem was resolved very fast. My VOIP is $5/month with many more features than my land line.

Posted by:

Old Man
15 Nov 2013

KRS (14 Nov 2013) brought up a very important point. Having a landline to use during power outages does no good unless you have at least one wired phone.

A few years ago the power was out in our area for about three weeks. I had a simple wired phone, so I could make and receive phone calls. However, everyone I knew used VOIP, cell phones, or remote phones. So when the power was off, they had no phone service except for the cell phones with very limited battery life. They could use their car to recharge the battery to make calls, but that did not last long enough for them to receive calls - unless the caller knew when the cell phone had been recharged.

Relying entirely on VOIP has an additional problem. You have no way to call your ISP to report that your Internet connection is down.

Posted by:

16 Nov 2013

I've been using MagicJack for 6 years now with not many problems (updates would normally take care of them). But one problem I have is calling government lines and specific financial institutions it does not allow. Could never get this resolved

Posted by:

17 Nov 2013

Will not use VOIP, period! :)

I must have a wired Landline, due to my husband's 11 Coronary Stents, in his heart. I must have a wired Landline, so that if, I have to call 911, it will show my address and phone number. I don't just want 911 to know, we need an emergency. I want them to know exactly what my address and phone number is ... This way the ambulance will know which address to come to, without me or my husband telling anyone. We only have to say ... "Help! Heart Attack" and someone will be on their way.

There is no way, to make things better with a VOIP service. It may be cheaper, but, not for us. Our lives depend on a Landline Phone number, for emergencies.

Yes, Landline Phones can go out of service, but, usually they do well, even in major disasters, except when the telephone lines and poles are completely torn up.

There's more reader feedback... See all 27 comments for this article.

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