Landlines are becoming obsolete

    You have to love those landline phones. For reliability, they cannot be beat. And although landline phone charges have dropped considerably over recent years, their competition still wins hands down based on cost.

    That’s why a massive switch is coming, with more and more of us hanging up the landline and picking up an internet-based phone, or cell phones at home.

    So what is this mighty competition? It’s known as voice over internet protocol or VOIP, and its quality is getting better every day. All you need is a computer, an Internet connection and an inexpensive phone that you can buy at any electronics stores, or on the net. For about $20 per year, make all the local and long distance calls you want, unless you have friends in foreign countries. That’s extra.

    From a call quality perspective, you probably won’t even notice a difference, though you may experience an occasional call drop. VOIP may not be for everyone and you need to be aware of some issues before you throw the landline out with the eight-track player. 

    • Depending on the VOIP service, the computer must be on for the phone to work. (But now there are ways around that, too. A small plug-in device that is essentially a computer without a monitor or keyboard, and uses hardly any energy, is used instead of the home computer. It costs $70 or $80. This device will likely go mainstream in the next few years).
    • You may not be able to keep your phone number. It depends on where you live and what company provides your VOIP phone service.
    • You won’t be listed in the phone book any more (some may see this as an advantage).
    • If the power goes off, so does your phone (unless you buy a power supply backup).
    • Tech support is spotty, and you may have to rely on e-mail messaging with the device company.
      If you have an alarm system installed at your home, the alarm system may not work with VOIP.
    • Most of the older fax machines will not work with VOIP

     

    Homeowners may be willing to give up the impressive reliability of their landlines, knowing their cell phones can act as excellent back-ups, especially if it’s only for an hour or two once or twice a year. The upfront costs are minimal to make the transition, and with the down economy, it may be an obvious way to save money every month.

    For businesses, there will likely be a role for landlines in the future, but only as a back-up. The day-to-day phone service will be VOIP because it is so cost-effective and relatively reliable. The most expensive aspect of making this transition for a business is replacing the phones for about $50 each. But given the savings – VOIP could easily slash monthly phone bills in half, and in some cases by 70 to 80 percent – Internet phones are here to stay.

    If current trends continue in telecommunications, and I predict that they will, landline phones will pretty much fade away, if not get hung up completely in the next five to ten years.

    Jim Sauter, former marketing director for TDS, is president of Nova1networks in Madison.

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