A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about the possibility of going mobile only and dropping the home landline. My conclusion at the time was that despite the landline being redundant in many ways it did still fulfil some useful purpose and we couldn't manage without it. I've decided to revisit the question two years on and see whether anything has changed. The landline has become increasingly redundant as communication has become more and more a personal, not a household, experience. Mobile phones, email addresses, IM addresses are all personal identifiers and it's increasingly unusual to share these across a family. In the early days of these technologies it was more common to a have a single mobile phone or a single email address in a family but much rarer now. Communication is about reaching an individual but a landline is tied to the household - how many multi landline households do you know? These days I rarely receive calls on our landline; I think the only people who call me on it are parents and that's probably because they can easily remember a number I've had for 25 years, unlike my mobile numbers!
According to Ofcom (Communications Market Report 2010), 15% of households are now mobile only, a 2% increase since 2008. However in the 25 to 34 age group 23% of households are mobile only. So more and more people are choosing to dispense with a landline and go mobile only.
Two years ago I came up with a number of reasons why a landline was still necessary for me. So have any of these changed?
ADSL broadband - We still don't have naked DSL in the UK so if you want ADSL broadband you have to pay for a landline service, even if you never use it. Cable broadband, assuming you live in a service area may be a non landline broadband option, although a broadband only service from from my local provider is more expensive than the broadband component of a bundled service, making the saving negligible. Mobile broadband, assuming good coverage in your home (which I don't have here), might be an option for some although download speeds are generally slower than decent fixed broadband.
999 or 112 emergency calls – Still falls into the “I’ll probably never need it but can I afford to take a chance” category. However, wIth all the mobile phones in our house I'm now tending towards the view that this is an irrelevance, despite the theoretical convenience of knowing that the 'phone on the wall' is always available in an emergency situation.
Flaky mobile coverage – This is still a huge problem and one that the mobile operators seem to be doing little to resolve. I've seen no change in the last two years where I live. In-building coverage is still very network dependent and a problem for many people. Fortunately O2 voice coverage is okay here so giffgaff does work for me!
Switch to VoIP – Despite not being quite as convenient as a landline, VoIP feels more like a viable alternative to a landline than even a couple of years ago. Mobile VoIP on a WiFi ready mobile handset over your home WiFi and broadband is a great alternative to cellular mobile if coverage is flaky at home.
Power cuts – A few weeks ago we had a 18 hour power cut at home and by the end of it even my mobile was running on vapour! However unless you experience a lot of power cuts a mobile should suffice.
Local phone number – Local phone numbers are less relevant than they used to be, although it's still generally cheaper to call a landline from another landline number rather than a mobile number. However you can get a local VoIP number for less than £1 a month and if you route it to a SIP account it costs nothing to receive calls.
Everyone in our household has their own mobile now - three members are on giffgaff. And if the landline wasn't there they'd just use their minutes bundles for all their calls. Mobile and VoIP calling has increasingly replaced landline calling for us, however pricing and regulation mean that a broadband service without a landline still doesn't seem to make sense - so I guess I'll stick with the landline for the moment. Next review in 2012!