Will VoIP Service Replace Your Landline?

Category: Telephony

A reader asks: 'I have both a landline and a mobile 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?' Read on for the scoop...

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 old-school telephone handset, 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. Some consumers may not have a choice. See my related article Landlines Will Be Obsolete in 3, 2, 1... to find out if your landline is doomed to extinction.

The copper-based landline system is over 100 years old. 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, Mexico 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.

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 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 "Will VoIP Service Replace Your Landline?"

(See all 41 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

01 Nov 2019

I have been using magicjack for $39.99 a year on all my landline phones. Never a problem quality of voice is Fine! Been using it for years now. Only time I have a problem is when I am on the phone and I am downloading files

Posted by:

01 Nov 2019

Here in the Northeast we lose power during storms and consistently Internet and cell phones go out but the landline still works. So yes, for our area a landline is best.

Posted by:

Nancy Sue Wainwright
01 Nov 2019

I don't know if anyone has mentioned the inconvenience and aggravation of missing words during a conversation due to the difference in how transmission takes place. VoIP sends your conversation in 'packets', some of which get lost along the way, while traditional phones send continually. No VoIP for that reason and since we are no strangers to power outages, even if they improved the packet system, I wouldn't use it.

Posted by:

Art F
01 Nov 2019

"But the problem is also solved by having a mobile phone, at least until the battery runs out." It is surprising how many people never think of the obvious solution of having on hand a car charger for their cell phone for purposes of preserving communications during prolonged power outages. Definitely a must if you live in a hurricane-prone area.

Posted by:

01 Nov 2019

Thank you Mr. Rankin.
One thing many people are currently learning about living in a 3rd-world state like California is that there is no such thing as 'salvation' in an emergency if the electric company has shut off power to millions of customers. Including electricity to the mobile network cell-towers which relay phone calls. Recent advise was to keep your mobile devices fully charged but...

Posted by:

01 Nov 2019

A "land Line" is my only option unless you consider an unreliable local WIFI service (always under a new owner) or expensive Satellite a viable option. I get 25 down fairly steady with a 1TB monthly limit. I stream all I need and never come close. Compaired to Dial-up on the same copper, it's like being on 'fiber'. Of course I refrain from most cloud data as 1mbps up-stream is molasses.

Posted by:

01 Nov 2019

A couple years ago to avoid ATT's constant increased fees we went with their 'bundle' (we already had their high speed internet). They then connected to our PC unbeknonst to me.
So, is this considered VOIP? We now pay $30 foe internet and $20 phone (plus taxes, of course).
And is this considered a good deal?
Thanx for your feedback!

Posted by:

01 Nov 2019

I dropped my landline phone over 16 years ago and I have never looked back. I also feel that the landline is going to be obsolete very soon. Most people use either VOIP service or mobile service. I have tried NetTalk, magicJack, and the very best of all the services is Ooma phone service, the calls are crystal clear, and there has been no issues at all! With the others such as NetTalk and magicJack I was always having problems and it was impossible to get hold of customer service. There are also restriction on how many minutes you can use which is 3000 minutes a month or less but with Ooma has 5000 a month. Ooma also has customer service which you can get hold of and also after hours chat if you are having problems. You can't ask for anything more!!

Posted by:

Mervyn Clay
01 Nov 2019

Here in Australia, a simple telephone call to my internet provider enabled me to use VOIP to make the modem compatible. Internet is either dedicated fibre or copper ( fibre to the node and then using the old telephone as the connection). All telephone calls are free as are my mobile phones calls when made in the home as it connects to the via wireless to the modem.

Posted by:

02 Nov 2019

Wow at all the comments. I still think there must be something as reliable as the line for the catastrophes that have taken on new meaning. My at&t dsl line works as long as the ups is alive except that the phone base is on house power. I have a throwaway but it is no good when the tower goes down as well. I have kept my magic jack alive and can use it until my lap top battery goes down. I used magic jack years ago in Taiwan for free communication to the states and still love it.
Thanks Dave, good article as always.

Posted by:

Daniel Wiener
02 Nov 2019

We exclusively use our cell phones for communication, having eliminated our land lines years ago. However, we first transferred our land line phone number to Google Voice (which involved a two step process of transferring it to a cell phone and then to Google Voice) so that people can still reach us (to leave voice messages or texts) at the same number we've had for four decades. I haven't bothered with Google's VOIP service, but it's nice to know it's there if needed.

What if we lose cell phone coverage in some disaster? Well, we could fall back on communicating over the Internet, assuming AT&T's DSL link was still working. And what if we are also blacked out? We could power the DSL box from one of our vehicles, which is why we have a couple of heavy duty DC-to-AC power inverters. Our vehicles could supply electricity for several critical household devices (even a refrigerator) for as long as the gasoline held out. (Which is another very good reason not to own an all-electric car, since in an emergency you want your car(s) to be a source rather than a sink of power.)

Posted by:

mark smith
02 Nov 2019

I have happily used OOMA for many years. IFTTT notifies me of voicemails. Everyone wants a number for various reasons and that is the number they get. I only give my cell to businesses I trust and 2nd layer security. I rarely get junk calls on my cell which is a big win. I hook OOMA to a set of cordless phones the are also bluetooth linked to my cell so I don't have to carry it from room to room.

Posted by:

02 Nov 2019

@Puterbob: You don’t have to have landline phone service in order to have DSL internet connection. You can ask the phone company to cancel the phone service, and they’ll just use a “dry loop” to support the DSL. You’ll still connect the modem to the wall jack, but you won’t have a dial tone if you connect a phone to it. Phone calls will not be supported, but the DSL will work just fine.

Posted by:

03 Nov 2019

I still consider a hard-wired connection the best for telephone connections,but copper lines are going away.I have been using VOIP for six years now and like it.Voice quality is good and my provider is pretty reliable.As long as the dial tone is there and calls are not dropped,I will continue with it. The only time I get frustrated is when the power goes out and I can't make a call.

Posted by:

Emily Booth
04 Nov 2019

I had a reduced rate with AT&T for landline service. It was the fees and taxes that made up most of my bill. These fees and taxes went up every year. They raised my monthly phone bill from $17 to $28. My basic rate was low, around $7, for 30 calls.

I was able to get a significantly reduced rate from AT&T for a year. When this was discontinued, I was told by AT&T that copper lines were going to be discontinued starting next year. The Citizens Utility Board, a local advocacy group, said this wasn't true and that they would be advocating for rural residents and seniors to keep their landline service.

I switched from AT&T to Magic Jack. I've been very happy. I am charged extra for 911 service. It's $60 for the year. But, with the Magic Jack renewal rate and the 911 service, it comes out to $5 a month, a huge savings from $28 month (and climbing). The sound quality with Magic Jack is excellent.

I kept AT&T U-Verse. I have great internet service. They raised my rate with the loss of the landline but gave me a year's discount.

I use Tracfone. I pay annually. It averages out to be $11 month.

When I recently traveled to Canada, I bought a Motorola Moto G6 cell phone and used Google Fi. The service was great! I will continue to use this phone and Google Fi for travel. It was inexpensive and worked really well. Not as cheap as Tracfone but Tracfone doesn't service Canada.

Posted by:

Dennis English
04 Nov 2019

Two years ago I switched my landline (I need it for business purposes) over to my cell provider for $10 per month. I was using AT&T and didn't have long distance or other common services. It was costing me $67/month. I have never been happier with my new service.

Posted by:

05 Nov 2019

I have been using VOIP for at least 15 years and disconnected my landline from the start. We would spend winters in Texas, Florida, Arizona, California and RV stops (motels, RV sites) between. All I needed was an Ethernet or WIFI Internet connection. With Ethernet I would plug in the little box so all inbound and outbound calls to/from my Canadian phone number worked as if we were at home. I even took the ATA box to India and used it the same way. Just connect up the ATA to the supplied Internet Ethernet and use their hotel handset. Of course, there is software to use the Laptop as the "handset" over any WIFI connection.

I run a full microgrid with 15 kW of solar and 3 Tesla POWERWALL 2 BATTERIES, so power failures are a non-issue for using VOIP. 9-1-1 calls are an issue but since we have never had to use this service, have no comments.

I seriously don't understand why most people continue to have a landline. The technology is well developed and it is impossible for many to even sense what is happening. I long ago stopped trying to explain this to callers. I just pretend I am sitting in my kitchen at home and get on with the business of the call.

Posted by:

Daniel W Mielkr
07 Nov 2019

I dropped my land line about 10 years ago and have never regretted it. When I dropped it I had a Company cellphone, a personal cell phone, my wife had a cellphone and 2 home phones - one company paid. When the company dropped their co maintained line in my home I realized I hadn't use my personal home landline in over 6 months. I have a battery pack for all USB devices, a car charger, and a car jumper battery with a USB PORT ON IT. I am not going back to a landline as I always have had some kind of phone service. An added plus if I travel or leave my home in an emergency everyone has access to me wherever I am.

Posted by:

08 Nov 2019

In all the decades I have used a land line, never, and I mean NEVER, did I have a dropped call or had to repeat over and over "can you hear me now?" (the fidelity was always excellent).

I never had an onerous, non-cancellable, 24 month contract. I never lost my phone. All repairs were included in my monthly payment.

And if away from home, there was always a pay phone nearby if needed . . . most things could wait until I got home.

It was nice not to be a slave to some little electronic gadget.

Posted by:

15 Nov 2019

I have severe hearing loss. Until such time as the CaptionCall people can use something other than a landline connection, I *have* to have landline.

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