The landline seems atavistic in 2013. A conventional telephone line, called POTS (plain old telephone service) is low fidelity, inefficient, and expensive. Two wires, helically intertwined in a twisted pair, travel hundreds or thousands of feet to a neighborhood cross-connection point or, in older networks, a central office. We spend over $35 per month without voicemail and no long distance service as prices have jacked up because fewer people need a landline.
And why have a landline? Most people, even the working poor, have mobile phones, because of the flexibility they provide. Pay-as-you-go plans allow those with the least money to top up phones as needed; those with the funds often get unlimited voice/text plans, and carriers force smartphone users into those, too. With unlimited minutes, why would you ever want a phone line coming into your house? Lynn and I have an AT&T shared-mobile cell plan, which contained costs that used to be irritating for data. It should probably be priced 20% to 40% less based on the true cost and utility if we had any real competition in the market. But it's worthwhile enough.
If you have DSL, the hardwired service might make sense, but it's often overpriced even with a voice/data bundle. The cable companies have trumped there, as with broadband, offering the triple play of voice, video, and data for a price so low that some people (not us) go all in even if they don't want the voice or video. It's just too cheap as an add-on. Everything comes over one wire and the cable firms provision it out for dedicated voice and video, leaving data for the rest. (We have naked cable broadband: the television part is a wasteland and we didn't want to get tied to them for voice.)
Several months ago, we got rid
of our old home alarm box, which was hardwired into our landline to call in reports, and which has
technical specifications that really require POTS, not cable voice or
other services. The new one is IP-based over Ethernet. We're paying $30 per month
instead of $19 for monitoring now, but this includes a service that lets us use our iPhones to
receive alerts, check status, and enable or disable the system. It runs
over our cable modem's data connection. (Mobile IP is much more
This is all logical. So why are we about to cancel our telephone-company landline and replace it with another? Let me explain what we opted for.
We chose to get AT&T's quasi-landline service, Wireless Home Phone. It's a cellular gateway that has its own unique phone number, plugs into AC power, and accepts RJ-45 style cordless and wired home phones. It has a backup battery built-in, and needs to talk to a cellular tower to make calls. It's a cell phone in a box, and requires no Internet service. It's $20 per month for unlimited calls when added to our shared-mobile plan. The gateway box is free because we ordered it online, and there's just a $36 fee to activate. If we wanted to, we could have ported our existing phone line over, too.
Why not just kill the landline? It turns out, every time Lynn and I discussed the issue, we came back to a few points:
- Her parents aren't routine cell-phone users. When they babysit or are even here overnight, we want them to have a phone to use and at which we can call them.
- Babysitters sometimes have restricted calling plans, and we don't want them to burn minutes. We often text them, but we wanted an alternative for them, too. You'd also be surprised at how often a sitter arrives with a cell phone with a battery that's run through its charge.
- We want a backup to our phones. Yes, the AT&T solution also uses the cellular network, but it doesn't require a mobile phone. The wired telephone company has proven surprisingly poor in bad-weather conditions, partly because they have less money to spend on maintenance. Cellular carriers have every motivation to keep service working, because people can move among carriers based on service responses.
- We want to have a phone line the boys can use, under supervision, to make and receive calls that doesn't require either Lynn or I to dedicate our own phone number to that purpose.
- If we really need to give a number out for some purpose and we don't want a business to have our cell phone, we can give this one out.
If you do the math above, you'll see we pay $35 a month for our current service, but switching our alarm added $11 per month and the AT&T service is $20 per month. That seems like a very slight savings, no? Is $48 a year worth it? It's better than it looks.
First, we have extra functionality with the alarm system through our phones, which is great and already useful. Second, the AT&T fake landline gives us unlimited long-distance calling, which we don't have on our current landline. We pay a buck or two a month for that, for a whopping $12 to $24 more in savings each year, but it also means we can use a "regular" cordless or wired phone for long calls instead of our iPhones. Finally, we're not convinced the local telco is going to be around forever, and we assume rates will keep climbing. This seems like the right time to make the switch.
You might also ask why we're not keeping our old phone number. It's been the number for this house since about 1991; my previous roommate, who also owned the house and sold it to me in 1996 when he moved, had the same number. We can get from 1 to 10 spam calls a day on the line: bank fraud, credit-card phishing, fake deals, weird surveys. We don't answer. But it's a disruption, and some of them leave messages. We're hoping moving to a "cell" line, where the carriers have generally managed to root out such spammers so far, will reduce the impact. We can only hope.