Will Cell Phones Replace Landline Telephones?

Cellular vs. Landlines

Landline Telephone


Cell Phones vs. Landlines

What if everyone in the world woke up one morning and all landline telephones had disappeared? What would happen to global communications if we only had cell phones to make calls?

You’ve probably read in the press that landlines are doomed. Wireless is hot. And 50% of those in the U.S. will have smartphones by 2015.  While true that smartphone penetration is increasing rapidly, few researchers and the media claim that wireless phones will replace landline telephones soon. (They’re 122 million landline connections in the United States.)

Athan Papoulias, writing in a recent Technorati piece, believes that mobile marketers will benefit as people drop their tradtional telephone service. Writing from Austrailia where mobile phone penetration has jumped past 100% (some people have more than one phone), he sees a wireless world where everyone cuts the telephone umbilical cord and embraces smartphones. (Oh, by the way, he runs a mobile marketing company.)

Wireless,  Landline and VoIP Growth

Papoulias writes:

“About 15% of mobile phone users no longer have a fixed-line telephone at home, says a survey of 18,000 people conducted by ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority). But why is this? Well it’s quite clear after Global Mobile hit the streets and spoke to a group of under-30-year-olds to find out the top three reasons.”

But Papoulias’ statement is unclear. First, 15% of all mobile phone users is not the same as 15% of all phone users. Second, he cites one survey, then jumps to another study, of under 30-year-olds, saying “Well, it’s quite clear…” Is it 15% of all phone users or 15% of those under 30 with cell phones? Regarding the 100% cell phone penetration, do 13-39 year-olds have more than one mobile phone, 40+ year-olds have a cell phone and a landline? And 41-65 year-olds only have landline telephones? He doesn’t say.

In a 2009 FCC Report, 58% of U.S households had both landline telephones and wireless services,  25% wireless only and 15% wireline only. But the vast majority of the 25% wireless only household residents were 30 and under. While it’s clear that more Americans are “cutting the cord,” 122M American households had landline telephones at the end of 2008.

As traditional services decline, VoIP, including Skype and Google Voice, is expanding in both the U.S., Australia and elsewhere in the world. In Australia, VoIP connections are increasing by 3% per month.

VoIP subscribers share many of the same benefits of traditional landline service at greatly reduced costs for local, domestic and international calling. True, phones are connected to the Internet. So if your Internet connection fails, your call drops. But cable and fiber-optic Internet connections offer up-time of 95%+, similar to traditional landline service.

Insufficient Wireless Spectrum

If all U.S. landlines (122 million) were ported to cellular, the carrier’s networks would collapse due to insufficient wireless spectrum. Until some bright person invents a new way to compress voice and data bandwidth on assigned cellular frequencies, it’s impossible to port all landlines.

So will cell phones replace landline telephones in the U.S.? Unlikely and not very soon.


  1. says

    Thanks, Rich, for your comments and on your blog. In the post, I only meant to point out that due to lack of wireless spectrum, we’ll be on landlines for many years to come.

    Carriers also rely on landlines to “backhaul” Internet and data traffic to local central offices.

  2. RichB says

    ‘Cell phones won’t replace landlines anytime soon’
    I wouldn’t be too sure. I’ve just been looking at data from Australia and calls from mobiles overtook calls from landlines in 2010.
    The data and post are here: http://bit.ly/tjteb7
    The article also points to a report suggesting that the same event has occurred in the UK.
    I would have thought it has therefore also happened in the US.

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