How Soon Will Your Landline Be Obsolete?

Category: Telephony

Less than two percent of U.S. adults have only a landline without cellphone service. Millions of consumers are 'cutting the cord' of landline phone service and switching to cellular or VoIP (Internet calling) services. If you’re one of the holdouts, you may be forced to give up your beloved copper-based phone line in the next few years. Here is why landlines are doomed, and a look at some alternatives you should be considering...

Landline Alternatives May Soon Be The Only Alternatives

Just fifteen years ago, 93% of U.S. households had a landline. As of late 2020, only 36.7% of Americans still have a landline phone, and in most states, the number of landline-only households is around 3%. Among adults 25-34 years old, about 80% are living in wireless-only households. This graph from Statista shows the trend from 2004 onward. But that’s only part of the story. I can’t even estimate the number of cable customers who have given up their traditional landlines in favor of VoIP (Internet calling) 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. 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. 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.

AT&T, Verizon, and other telephone companies desperately 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 landline service.

Landline telephone network obsolete?

The FCC and the States are inclined to go along. In 2017, twenty state legislatures in the USA voted to give AT&T permission to end landline service, and focus more on improving wireless and internet-based phone networks. Under that agreement, AT&T would be able to terminate landline service for customers in some of those states, with just 60 days notice.

In the UK, British Telecom has set a deadline of 2025 to fully migrate customers away from landline service. But as of now, the US-based telcos seem to have softened their stance. Over the past 10 years there has been a lot of chatter that landlines would be phased out by 2018, then 2020. But there hasn’t actually been widespread pressure on customers who cling to their beloved handsets with tangled cords.

I read in one online forum that an AT&T rep told one customer they are no longer planning on phasing out landlines in the near future, and will not discourage people from ordering landlines. That may be because the FCC released a ruling in November 2017 addressing the retirement of landline copper lines. It instructed carriers what that seek to discontinue legacy services to ensure their new services are accessible, compatible, and usable for persons with disabilities. In addition, fire and security alarms, medical devices, emergency systems, fax machines, and point-of-sale terminals all use the copper-based landline network, and switching all those legacy systems to wireless is not a trivial exercise.

Despite the obvious advantage of portability, mobile phones have their drawbacks. Call quality on landlines is superior to cellular in most cases. There's a reason why "Can you hear me now?" became an advertising catchphrase. And when was the last time you had trouble getting a dialtone or a dropped call on your landline? Landline phones are also orders of magnitude cheaper than mobile phones, and they don't breakwhen you drop them on a tile floor.

"It's for you..." The Atlantic published a thoughtful piece titled How the Loss of the Landline Is Changing Family Life. My thirty-something children grew up in the transitional period between landlines and the ubiquity of mobile phones, so I read this with some longing for the past.

Nonetheless, the writing is on the wall, and if I may quote Bob Dylan, there is a slow train coming ‘round the bend. Traditional landlines WILL be unavailable in many parts of the USA within a few years. Fortunately, there are plenty of landline alternatives.

Some Landline Alternatives to Consider

If you're looking for mobile phone service, I wrote about Consumer Cellular in my September 2020 article, Do You Love Your Phone Company? Consumer Cellular has built their business by offering low rates, with a no-contract business model, and is especially popular with seniors. See also my review of one low-cost and innovative cellular service provider: Ting, and my tips on how to Stop Wasting Money on Your Cell Phone Bill.

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 service is $9.99/month for the first 6 months; and $26.99 per month thereafter.

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 $99.99 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.

Magic Jack: 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. If you buy one magicJack for $39.99, you get one free year of home phone service. After that, you pay just $39 per year, or $99 for three years.

Google Voice offers internet calling as well. With a Google Voice account, you get a free phone number, free voicemail, even automatic transcription of voicemail messages to text. Your free Google Voice phone number can ring on your computer, or you can forward it to another mobile or landline phone. Phone calls via Google Voice are totally free for calls to any kind of phone in the U.S. or Canada. Other international calls can be made for modest fees.

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.

Do you still have a landline (and a hopelessly tangled 25-foot cord)? What’s your plan when the telephone man comes along to pull the plug on your landline service?

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

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Most recent comments on "How Soon Will Your Landline Be Obsolete?"

(See all 40 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

10 May 2021

Some commenters are not distinguishing between a VOIP landline and a POTS landline. They are DIFFERENT, you know. And, yes, POTS landlines are powered so that phone service isn't interrupted during a power outage. On the other hand, VOIP is disconnected during a power outage, unless you have a standby power supply.

Posted by:

10 May 2021

As an alternative I mainly use Skype World Wide calling, for under $40.00 for 3 months. I can call almost any landline in any Country with no time restriction. This works for me as I call friends/Family around the world. Very happy with the service

Posted by:

10 May 2021

I live in a semi-rural area in NH, and have very poor cell coverage. If they took away my landline, I would NOT have reliable phone coverage.

Posted by:

10 May 2021

Over my cold dead body do they make me give up my landline. Landline is dependable. It works during a power outage when cell phones do not. I don't own a smart phone. I'm a senior on limited income that doesn't include a smart phone. I carry a cell phone with me when I'm out to have in emergencies; I pay $3/mo for my service. All you techies, enough.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
10 May 2021

I live in a mid-western - flatland - urban environment. I am a retiree with limited income so to make ends meet, I cut the cable, got Roku boxes for T.V. entertainment, switched to ATT fiber-300 for Internet service, and got a magic-jack for my home phone. I also have a cell-phone with Q-Link (a Life-Line provider), so that service is free (and seems to be dependable enough for my needs).

I am fortunate that the electrical grid here seems to be very stable. I have not suffered a power outage longer than a few hours since living in my current home (about seven years). Many of the changes I have made have been forced on me by economic necessity but I have the entertainment services I want with dependable communications and great Internet connectivity.

The end result is that I can pay for the services I have, I can watch the T.V. shows I want to see, and I can get on the Internet with good connectivity when I want to do so. My set-up may not be ideal for everyone, but after all it is an evolutionary work-in-progress and it works for me.

Posted by:

Hal Newman
10 May 2021

We (my wife of 61 years and I) still have a landline, mainly “use it” to ignore Robocalls. We use Tracfone for our cellular needs, which are rare, almost non-existent. Tracfone used to cost $6.95 per month, but went to $105 annually when we were forced to buy Android phones, which, literally, have minds of their own. E.g., Caller ID’s identify me as Jim Campbell (I’m Hal Newman) and my wife as UMASS). Neither Verizon nor Tracfone will take responsibility and fix the problem.… How do you know that this is true. Because I couldn’t make it up! Nobody could! … So far, the one or two times a year that we need to use the Tracfone, it has worked.

Posted by:

10 May 2021

No fibre where I live and cell service is spotty once you get out of town. POTS is reliable and continues to work even when the power goes out. Just make sure you have a corded phone plugged in to the jack in the wall. And copper is also how I get my Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line service to the house.

Posted by:

James F Pietruszka
10 May 2021

Currently have FiOS for phone & internet. Initially cell service was a big issue because I apparently live in a "dead" zone. Dropped calls from T-Mobil, Verizon, and AT&T. While on AT&T I accidently discovered my latest cell phone supported WiFi calling. TOTALLY SOLVED MY CELL PHONE PROBLEM. As long as the provider & the cell phone support WiFi calling I now can use any carrier. Thought this may help others.

Posted by:

10 May 2021

I read in your column that " AT&T rep told one customer they are no longer planning on phasing out landlines in the near future, and will not discourage people from ordering landlines."
Because of renovation of my apartment in 2018, I had to move upstairs to a new unit. I liked my landline that worked when the power went out and DSL was just fine for email and occasional surfing. AT&T told me I had to get Uverse, period.

Posted by:

11 May 2021

When the power fails area wide cell towers are out. Local cable etc. is out. I will keep my dial phone and copper wire as long as possible. it works with no electric. Do wonder if 911 centers will work. May have to get a two way radio tuned to the local police--their cars should still have radio. I am an old dog and do not like these new tricks.

Posted by:

11 May 2021

My wife needs a hearing assisted phone (supplied at no charge by the state). Unfortunately, it will only work with POTS. Before cutting the copper, AT&T MUST come up with a solution to this issue.

Posted by:

11 May 2021

"Despite the obvious advantage of portability, mobile phones have their drawbacks. Call quality on landlines is superior to cellular in most cases." I'm in Australia - same issues as in the US. But listening to the radio, you can ALWAYS tell when someone calls in from a landline. Clear. Unambiguous.Entirely understandable. Cell phone? Often fades in and out; background noise; poor reception. Ambiguous and often virtually unrecognisable. It will be a sad day when landlines disappear!

Posted by:

11 May 2021

2%, hmm, makes me wonder if the numbers are skewed by people miss-understanding the question? What about all the people living in remote areas, how good is their mobile service? I cannot see POTS disappearing anytime soon. Here in Canada we have huge areas with no mobile coverage. With loss of service we'd only be left with satellite service, I won't even talk about the far north.

Posted by:

11 May 2021

Considering that my landline is so much clearer and reliable, I will hold out and continue using it as long as possible. Meanwhile, I agree with Stephe, where Google's voicemail messages to text is very CREEPY! I also have a great disdain for the Big Tech, power-hungry weirdos in Silicon Valley, which are run mostly by a bunch of psychopaths.

Posted by:

Kenny D
11 May 2021

I got rid of the over priced and taxed landline years ago. I have a cell phone, and a VOIP phone service. Pay as you go, costs $3.95 a month and 1.5 cents per minute. Callcentric

Posted by:

11 May 2021

As we don't get viruses etc on landline I'll stay with it as long as I can, the problem will be they will offer a basic service which will be so poor it will eventually force consumers onto the expensive plan which will probably work ok, but it's a backwards step

Posted by:

Byron. Miller
12 May 2021

My landline phone is now connected via the internet FiberOp.
When the Internet service is down I lose my phone service. Not a good idea for emergency situations. Landlines are still powered even during a power outage. Now no internet, no phone service. Battery backup is only good for 4 hours.
I had to buy a cell phone and $130 a month plan with internet for emergencies. BUT if the cell towers lose power I don't have any cell phone service at all.
It is dangerous to totally rely on wireless technology and the internet. Both are wide open to Cyber attacks which can shut down industries and an entire country's communications capabilities.
It is a stupid plan to discontinue hard wired landline phone and communications systems.
Wirless cell and Internet are NOT reliable in an emergency situation.
Satellites are exposed to Cyber attacts and physical attacks from assassin satellites.
Humans have become too reliable on and trusting of wireless and internet technology.

Posted by:

12 May 2021

POTS = Greatest invention ever.
If it was not for those lines inside the walls that they used to put in older houses, I would have never been able to fish all my CAT6 cables without ripping out all the walls, in hour 2-story house. I even went one step further and also ripped out the copper telco cabling all the way to the pole. It was a feel-good experience, like getting a Covid vaccine; Taking all that copper wiring to the recycle-center was even more exciting since it marked my final and permanent "detachment" from AT&T.

Posted by:

Mike c
14 May 2021

Some voip systems had trouble with local 911 and other emergency calls. How does the provider know what's local and where to route the call? It would be best to find out before abandoning the landline.

Posted by:

Vince B
14 May 2021

Relying solely on cellular is not an option for many of us who live in rural areas under served (or unserved) by cell towers. It is an unusual day when I can get a cell signal where I live. I would love to give up my landline because the cost continues to rise.

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