Cell Phones vs. Landlines—Who Needs Both?

June 2013 View more

N2013_06_01_001FINANWhen Martin Cooper addressed graduates last year at his alma mater, Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology, the smartphone generation had to be all ears. In 1973, Cooper changed the way we communicate by creating the first portable cellular phone. It weighed about two pounds, stood nine inches tall, required ten hours to recharge, and allowed less than 1/2 hour talking time before recharging the battery was necessary.

Forty years later, we’re connected at the hip to our cell phones. Nearly seven billion mobile connections worldwide were active at the end of 2012. That figure, according to GSMA, an association representing 750 mobile operators globally, is expected to jump to nearly ten billion by 2017.

The Death of the Landline?

Will landlines and plain old telephone service (POTS) go the way of the dinosaur? In October 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek listed landlines as one of 20 dying technologies, stating, “Except for businesses and octogenarians, landlines are essentially out.”

Despite the trend, my family, and some or our friends, are retaining our landlines for a few reasons:

• “Can you hear me now?”—The main reason for home landlines is reliability and good reception. Cell phones can sometimes disappoint.

• Running on empty—If cell phones run out of juice, inevitably occurring at inconvenient times, we usually have our landline.

• Finding us—Landlines allow police and fire personnel to locate our home easily in an emergency. Cell phones are less precise when location is important, for example in a large apartment or condo complex. Peace of mind with POTS, especially with children at home, isn’t all that expensive for the basic package. For us, it’s $30 per month, plus long distance service. However, we call long distance on our cell phones.

• Not finding us—We really don’t want absolutely everyone trying to reach us on our cell phones. Leave messages on my landline, please.

• Ring, doggone it—Personally, if nothing else, the landline helps me locate my cell phone when it decouples from my hip.

• Reverse 911—A friend of mine lives in Villa Park. I received a reverse 911 call from the Villa Park Public Safety Department advising me of the hazards of water-logged electrical outlets in flooded basements, plus where to pick up free sand bags. If I only had a cell phone, I would not have received this alert.

The Cost of Convenience

Before cell phones entered our world as a mainstay, our monthly bill could easily exceed $85, though we closely monitored the length of long-distance calls. Now, for two cell phones, we pay $130 per month for pure convenience, which lets us talk to friends across the country whenever we please. Add $30 for our basic POTS, and the total is $160 per month, nearly double the cost of our landline alone. It sounds like a high price to pay, but so many plans now allow you to customize a plan to fit your needs, and we wanted some add-ons.

My oldest son, age 30, tells me that none of his friends have landlines unless they have young children at home who are too young to carry a cell phone “responsibly”, or if they have poor cell phone reception. Our niece has three daughters, each with a cell phone, totaling more than $200 per month. She says it’s pricey, but with crazy schedules, everyone can reach each other whenever they want. In addition, without a landline they don’t receive calls from pesky solicitors.

Customize Your Plan

You can customize your plan. However, this does take time and effort but can slice off unneeded services on your cell phone bill. The best article I found that details how to do that is PC World’s “12 Tips to Cut Your Cell Phone Bill.” (https://www.pcworld.com/article/255495/12_tips_to_cut_your_cell_phone_bill.html).

Your smartphone may do everything but mix a martini, a review of your plan, can make it a more conventional, affordable convenience.