The Cord Cutter and the Land Line


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.

photo: taberandrew Flickr

photo: taberandrew Flickr

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:


Cutting Costs

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.


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11 Responses to The Cord Cutter and the Land Line

  1. Augustine says:

    Indeed, the landline does have its undeniable advantages. However, it comes down to their not being worth the price. The intense competition in cellular telephony has brought the prices for many more services than the landline can provide. And, as in your case, it doesn’t make sense to pay twice for an equivalent service.

    Mind you, instead of charging your phone in the car in a power outage, you could also someone’s landline: 😉

  2. Greg says:

    Good to hear from you Augustine. I enjoyed that link on how to convert the land line to a cell phone charger. Quite creative.

  3. Len Mullen says:

    Greg, you ignored the single most important issue — no one has land lines. Cable companies have used VOIP forever. Businesses too!

    My first cable cutting step was to replace my Comcast VOIP phone service with OOMA VOIP phone service. I paid $205 for my OOMA hub in 2009. It’s been almost exactly four years, so my phone bill has been $4.27/month. The call quality is comparable to a land line plus I can review call logs and voice mail via a web page. My OOMA VOIP is better than either Compast VOIP or Verizon land line — at a fraction of the cost.

    • Greg says:

      I should have mentioned VOIP as a 3rd category, being neither a land line nor a cellular connection. Ooma looks interesting, but it relies on your high speed internet connection right. You really think it out performs the Verizon land line?

  4. Len Mullen says:

    For voice quality, it is on par with a dedicated line. For convenience and features, it far surpasses a land line. For cost, OOMA is peerless. What is really nice is that you plug this in to a phone jack and then you use all your phones as you did before — the dialtone comes from OOMA.

    I should mention that my fee-less OOMA is no longer available. New users have to pay taxes and fees. Still a bargain.

    • Pam V.K. says:

      I still have my overpriced land line for one reason: 911. I’m perfectly healthy, but my cell phone isn’t fused to my body, so what if I fall or have a heart attack and can’t reach my cell phone? Or I forgot where I put it? Or I find it, and the batteries are dead or I can’t get a signal? Or service is down? Etc., etc., etc. Even though I have a cordless land line phone, I always keep it charging on its base, so I know where it is. And it darn well better be charged and working in an emergency.

      Plus people seem to lose or ruin cell phones all the time, maybe because of their disposable nature. I keep hearing stories about people dropping them in toilets or sinks, losing them or having them stolen. (Just ran a search on this: 1 in 4 cell phones are lost, damaged, or stolen each year!)

      So I’m keeping my land line for now. I am trying to switch from AT&T to WowWay, but they don’t service my area yet. (AT&T is also my ISP.) I hope that eventually the prices for land lines come down to lure customers back.

      • Augustine says:

        In case of a power outage, a cordless phone will not work either, since its base typically requires power from a wall outlet. And if emergencies is important to you, you should have a wired phone plugged directly into the phone socket on each floor of your house, lest you have a heart-attack on during a power outage and the phone is on the other floor.

        • Greg says:

          Agreed. If you are worried about emergency service get an old Western Electric wall phone. Not a cordless. Nothing that needs an AC adapter.

  5. Len Mullen says:

    You’ll likely find VOIP alternatives support 911 as well. Of course, if you have an emergency when the network is down…

  6. Bob says:

    The point will be moot in the coming years, providers are phasing out landlines.

  7. Greg says:

    Thanks for posting the link – interesting article. It’s wild to think millions of copper lines will be abandoned. There must be people right now already going into the business of collecting all those old twisted pair drops just to salvage the valuable copper.

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