A monotonous beep of dead phone lines; the death knell of the once-depended-upon landline that shrinks into eventual obscurity. Destined to become another relic of the pre-digital age like the VHS or memory cards. For now, landline clings by a cord in a world that’s changing quicker than 100mbps.
So, why are more people hung up about landlines? Advanced technological alternatives, generational divide, cheaper deals, Facetime – all play a part in its slow demise. Yet for some, landline is the only viable solution for communication. Even then it’s more of a rigid method. The people who depend on it hold the line out of sheer necessity. Like polite recipients enduring a nuisance call (another reason perhaps?).
To fathom the landline’s slow demise we need to look at the numbers. They’re unsustainable! Four million UK households cut the copper in the past twenty years. Research conducted in 2019 complemented evidence of the decline. It showed UK households spent an average of 48 minutes per week on the blower. Compare that to 35 minutes per week just two years later…and the tone remains bleak.
Fudzilla claims that people are “trashing” their landlines. Statistics they pulled from research in a blog by Wrappz – who design cases for phones and other devices – showed a regional breakdown of active phone lines in England. If the current trajectory of decline is maintained it is estimated that landlines will completely disappear in England by 2067. This is almost guaranteed with the advent of new ways to communicate with each other and a propensity amongst younger generations to use mobile phones.
USwitch carried out a survey in March of this year. They found that 26% of the people surveyed, those connected to landlines, had their phones permanently off the hook. Another 35% claimed landlines essential for access to broadband.
ISPreview points out that one of the chief causes that landlines are swept aside is due to the tidal wave of alternative technologies. Emails, Voice-over-IP (VOIP), services like Skype and Zoom, WhatsApp and social media platforms such as Facebook, offer us better and cheaper ways to contact loved ones and do business instantly across space and time.
As we marvel at new breakthroughs in communications, we also have to wonder; ‘is there a place for the landline in the future?’ Broadband ISPs and the UK government seems to differ. The prior, increasingly offer data-only connection on copper and fibre optic lines; the latter aims to switch the country’s telecom infrastructure from analogue to digital by the end of 2025.
According to Nick Baker at USwitch, many people (83%) in rural areas depend on landline because of poor connection that fails to accommodate other means of communication. The government’s ambition to bring ‘full-fibre or gigabit-capable broadband by 2025’ looks only to dial-up the death of the landline.
New technology walks hand in hand with younger people. It’s natural for someone to stick with what they know. For the first time in history, there is a generation of digital natives. The same sentiment applies to older people. Whether they saw the landline telephone becoming more prominent or as a norm, digital immigrants either adapt to today’s technology or stay faithful to pre-digital technologies.
Indeed, research by USwitch suggests the older someone is the more likely they are to stick with pre-digital technology. Nick Baker claims 95% of over-65’s still use landlines in comparison to just 52% of 18 to 24-year-olds. Sure, there are examples of younger people allured to the novelty of older technologies – like vinyl records – even landline enjoyed a brief resurgence last year.
Covid at its zenith gave the government no choice but to impose the most stringent control on public life since World War 2. During the first lockdown, landline providers like Sky and Virgin reported an increase in calls. TalkTalk saw a 60% increase between March and April of 2020. A large amount of this was no doubt owed to people working from home. After all, voice call minutes increased 80%, with peaks of an estimated 2.5 million calls per hour around 10 am.
In early evenings, however, call minutes increased to 94% and it wasn’t out of sheer novelty. Landline eased the difficulties of social distancing by allowing younger and older generations to stay in touch. But does this mean the landline is off the hook?
Millions across the globe adopted frugal mentalities as a response to the Great Recession of 2008. Who can blame them? Hard times demand tough measures. Particularly after the pandemic hit just after glimpses of economic recovery.
Companies like TalkTalk saw an opportunity to offer new deals on the back of the landline’s brief resurgence last year. However, the Guardian reported how TalkTalk reneged on fixed-term contracts for loyal customers. Ofcom found they had respected the rights of their customers by giving 30 days grace to leave their contracts. Financial pressures due to Covid were to blame.
But let’s not beat about the bush. Customers and landline service providers are often engaged in a battle of costs and savings. High inflation rates cause prices to spike. Customers pay rental for the copper line when there are alternatives! Plus, packages and deals are increasingly inflexible. Just as Neil Cummins argues in his article ‘Two years is a long time to spend dealing with a company you regret giving your custom to…’
There’s no doubt that the landline still has its uses. But where it does is always out of necessity; the elderly, unaccustomed to new technologies, people living in rural areas and others who need a landline for broadband. With technological advances pushing governments to move with the times eventually the landline will become obsolete. An improvement in how we communicate with each other is a good thing, of course.
But what about the outdated business models connected to the landline? BroadbandFreedom weighs up whether you should get no-contract broadband. There are no cancellation fees, credit checks or having to deal with nuisance phone calls from providers chasing up renewals.
One year, 18 month and even two-year contracts that essentially trap customers is no good if you prefer flexibility and paying for services on your terms. It’s freedom of choice that makes customers feel valued.
Plus, there’s no need for a landline!