Sometime late last year, according to researchers, the number of people living in households with one or more cell phones exceeded that of people living in a household with a landline.
Not surprisingly, the trend is being driven by the young ones, 18-24 year-olds, 32% of whom live in households where a cell phone is the only phone (as opposed to 14% for the population at large), according to Mediamark Research, Inc., a consumer research firm. The biggest group living in landline-only homes is retirement age: 65 and over. (Overall, the total number of households with only a landline is now a little more than one in ten nationally, a rate that continues to decrease.)
Throw in the increasing use of VoIP (Voice-over-Internet protocol) services like Skype, and it’s clear that phone users have more choices than ever.
But is it wise to unplug your landline option for good? The answer depends.
IN TERMS OF MONEY
The single largest group avoiding a landline entirely is the young and single. This makes economic and cultural sense. Younger users have grown up with cell phones as a means of communication, and self-identity, so the idea of paying more money each month for a landline doesn’t add up. But if you’re the head of a family, even a recent parent, having a landline can save you bundles over cells. The bigger your family, the more likely it’s a cheaper alternative. Landlines can placed in each family member’s room through a single line. A cell requires a separate number, and separate hardware, for everyone. And while "family plans" exist that lower the cost of multiple phones within the family, these plans are still more expensive than a single land line, which costs on average, $27-a-month, as opposed to around $35 for basic cell contracts.
EDGE: Landlines for Families; Cell Phones for Singles
IN TERMS OF RELIABILITY
While cellular technology continues to improve, this is where landlines still trump their wireless counterparts. Dropped calls and spotty service are non-factors with a landline, and phones don’t need recharging. Safety is often the primary reason cited by landline lovers. In a recent survey conducted by Verizon (VZ) , 94% of respondents who planned on keeping their landline cited safety and reliability as the primary factors in their decision. It makes sense: In a blackout, when cell towers fail, a landline can still be used to make phone calls or dial 911.
EDGE: Landlines, for now
DON'T FORGET ABOUT FAXING
Though the fax is a technology whose days seem numbered, some transactions, and home offices, still require the faxing of documents, especially when a signature is needed. Scanning and e-mailing can replace this need, but not always. If you still fax documents with any regularity, the ability to do it from your home as opposed to running out to the local Kinko’s can be another motivation for holding onto that landline.
EDGE: Landlines (until Faxes go the way of the BetaMax).
Technology is erasing many landline advantages. Many people like the practicality of having a single number, which makes the cell phone a better option. As cellular reliability continues to improve, the arguments for the landline will likely continue to erode. Younger generations who didn’t grow up with a landline as the sole means of telecommunications will continue to eschew the landline in favor of the cell, but for boomers, its pull is likely to last for some time to come.