If you still pay a local phone provider for landline, you are part of a dwindling majority.
For the first time, more than a third of U.S. homes are now landline free. As of the end of 2011, 34 percent of us live in homes that are cellphone-only, up 2.4 percent as of June 2011, according to the latest results of a bi-annual National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) conducted by the Centers of Disease Control (CDC). (I'm assuming the CDC conducts this survey to make sure it knows how to contact people in case of an emergency. You can see the summary of the NHIS survey here.)
Anyway, not surprisingly, it's younger folks who have made the major transition to no landline abodes. According to the survey, here's the age-to-wireless-only breakdown, with the percentages for Jan-Jun 2011 in parenthesis:
18-24 years old: 48.6% (46.8%)
25-29 years old: 59.6% (58.1%)
30-34 years old: 50.9% (46.2%)
35-44 years old: 36.8% (34.3%)
45-64 years old: 23.8% (21.6)
65 years or older: 8.5% (7.9)
No surprise, its us mature Americans who have been the slowest to switch. I don't blame you/us for more-or-less standing pat with POTS (industry acronym for plain old telephone service), and I know three reasons why we're leery of dumping our old-fashioned landline phone:
- Comfort level/new tech-phobic
- You like your phone number
And I also know why you're tempted to switch: money.
Each month, I pay more than $100 a month for my Verizon POTS service. This annoys me no end - and probably you, too - because I know (and you know) that that's $100 a month I don't have to spend.
So let's see if we can't remove these three switching roadblocks so we can stop throwing our money down the landline sewer.
First off, we're assuming this is a choice between a landline and its familiar desktop phone, corded or cordless, and a cellphone.
You can keep your familiar landline phone - or one like it - even if you hang-up on your POTS provider.
This whole post stated out as a review of the VTech LS6475 expandable cordless phone (pictured). I like this phone because of the DECT headset, which works just like a cordless extension handset. I can wear it all around my apartment and wander around 100 feet away from the phone's base station, three times the range of Bluetooth headset, and take phone calls without holding a phone to my ear. The base station also loudly announces who's calling you. For $100, it's a great deal for a home office worker.
But this phone doesn't have to be used with money-sucking POTS service. You can use it or any regular phone, including your current tabletop phone, with VoIP.
VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol - you make phone calls using the Internet. You've seen commercials for Vonage and magicJack? These are ridiculously inexpensive VoIP phone services. (You can read my review of magicJack here.)
And, to answer your next question, VoIP services provide the same quality sound and connectivity reliability as your landline service - most of the time. There may be occasional quality and connectivity blips because we're dealing with the Internet. But 99.9 percent of the time, you won't detect a difference.
Best of all, as noted, when you subscribe to a VoIP service, you can use any regular, familiar desktop corded or cordless phone you'd like, such as the VTech LS6475 with its handy DECT headset.
Cell/desktop phone alternatives
Even if you opt to go cellular-only, you'll still be able to use a familiar desktop phone to chat. But you will need a new Bluetooth-enabled phone that lets you pair your cellphone to it.
Once paired, when your cellphone rings, so will your Bluetooth-enabled desktop phones. Or, pick up the cordless phone handset and make calls through your cellular provider.
If you want (and I do) a cellphone-enabled desktop phone with a DECT headset, VTech makes a number of these cell/headset models. Unfortunately, there are no two-line versions, which I'd really like.
Then there's Skype, which lets you make voice and video calls through your computer, smartphone or tablet. Instead of a monthly bill, you simply pay-as-you-go.
But you don't need a computer, smartphone or tablet to use Skype to make phone calls. Several manufacturers make Skype phones that look just like regular cordless phones that don't require a computer - just a Wi-Fi router.
But you can't port your home phone number to Skype, nor can you dial 911, topics we'll cover tomorrow.