I originally started this post as a compare and contrast: Cable TV vs Land Line cord cutting. But as I compared each point I found myself NOT in favor of cutting the land line – even though I have done so.
Do you still have one of these vintage phones in your home? This is a post I could have written more than five years ago – this cutting trend is older than cable cord cutting.
AT&T customers have been abandoning their land line service by the millions. And the reason of course is mobile phones have taken over. But is cutting the land line really such a great idea? Let’s look at some of the trade offs:
In my case the decision to drop the land line was simple. Looking to reduce some of my monthly expenses, which service was the most expendable? There were three I was considering: Cable TV, land line telephone, and bottled water. And of those three the land line won easily. My cell phone plan was already virtually unlimited minutes so the land line seemed somewhat redundant, especially since I was always taking calls in my house on my cell phone. I’m saving about $28/month today by not having land line service.
It wasn’t with out some misgivings dropping a service I had used my entire life. The land line is still superior to mobile phone service. Far superior. One standard of reliability for the switching equipment used for telephony is termed “five 9’s” meaning the phone connection was available 99.999% of the time. With cell phones we’ve gotten used to the idea that we might simply drop a call.
Land lines have another advantage: they won’t go out with the power grid. In September of 2011 Southern California experienced a massive power outage. During that outage I used my cell phone in my parked car to keep it charged. The old fashioned wall phone (like the one pictured) gets its power from the phone company and will continue to operate.
Your land line phone utilizes a dedicated electrical circuit all the way from your home to the provider’s central office. Your mobile uses an radio frequency link to wherever the nearest cell tower happens to be and that link uses sophisticated compression techniques.
In researching this article I was looking for actual bandwidth numbers to compare cell phone vs land line audio quality. I did not find those numbers but I did find this interesting discussion on The Straight Dope message board. Contributor “dedoslocos”, made an interesting observation: music heard over a cell phone is barely discernible. But the land line doesn’t have this flaw. The problem is that the cell phone was designed with just enough bandwidth to carry a conversation. Thankfully there are signs that the audio quality of our cell phones will improve.
The Wireless Road Ahead
The issues with cell phone performance are fixable. Remember analog mobile? That was even worse. Today’s wireless carriers are in a struggle just to keep up with the bandwidth of the 4G/LTE smart phone. Eventually I expect that audio quality will become a focus again.
One of the emerging technologies that will help is called “small cells”. These are basically mini cell tower antennas that will be used to extend the wireless network to areas too far away from one of the traditional cell towers. These access points can provide cell phone service, internet access or both. Eventually we will be living in a world that is saturated by wireless access. The twisted copper pair, coax cable, even the fiber to the home may become a relic of the past. And perhaps the reliability of a wireless connection will again reach five 9’s. Until that point however, I do kind of miss my old land line.