In her Aging With Geekitude series, self-professed “recovering technophobe” Erica Manfred writes about her adventures with technology and shares what she’s learned as she navigates the not-so-scary waters.
My trip to Florida this winter has turned into a forced experiment in cord cutting – not just the cable cord, which I successfully severed, but also the phone. My condo has Internet but no landline, so I’ve been forced to consider relying solely on my smartphone and/or using Internet-based calling.
I’m not alone. About 45 percent of Americans have cut the cord on landlines, according to the United States Telecom Association. Along with cutting the cable cord, it’s a good way to reduce your monthly overhead.
Still, before I made the move south, I couldn’t imagine relying on a big, square, flat piece of plastic for all of my calls. I’m the compulsive type who has a phone in every room and hates to miss a call, so at home in upstate New York I paid a hefty price for phone service as part of a very expensive package from Time Warner Cable. I assumed that relying on my mobile would result in bad reception, dropped calls and interrupted conversations.
The Cellular Landline Alternative
My phone sounds fine in Florida (not so upstate, where reception is iffy). Yes, having a long conversation while holding my extra-large Galaxy Note 3 cramps my hand, but I could plug in a headset if I wanted to take the trouble. As for not having a phone in every room, I only have two rooms here, so it’s easy to keep track.
That’s not to say that I don’t miss my landline sometimes. I miss not having a phone that I can use to call my cellphone when I misplace it. And relying on my cell as my only phone makes me nervous. If I lost it or dropped it in the toilet (which happens to people more often than you’d think) I’d be in big trouble.
Are You Ready to Cut Your Landline?
People refer to any phone that’s not a cellphone as a landline. In fact, a real landline is the type that transmits phone signals through copper wire over or underground – a technology that’s been used for commercial phone service since 1877, when phones had actual dials and Ma Bell had a monopoly on telephone service. Now, instead of all phone calls being transmitted through copper wires, landlines are gradually being replaced with VoIP phone lines (Voice over Internet Protocol – keep reading). We tend to be nostalgic for those days of perfect reception, but we forget the astronomical phone bills, especially for long distance.
That said, corded landlines are the only phones that work when the lights go out, since they don’t use electricity to transmit phone signals and don’t need recharging, and underground copper wires aren’t as vulnerable as cell towers. Along with many VoIP lines, they also give emergency responders a more accurate reading on your location than a cellphone does. Here’s an article with some good reasons to consider keeping your landline, if you have a real one and can afford to hold on to it.
Non-Cellular Landline Alternatives
I plan to stick with a cell-only phone life for now, but I did research options for cutting the landline cord and learned that there are a number of ways to cut the cord and save money.
What Are Your Cord-Cutting Options?
Along with mobile, VoIP is the main technology replacing landlines. VoIP simply means that your calls are transmitted over the Internet. VOIP services can be either computer- or subscription-based; subscription-based services plug directly into your Internet, so you don’t need to have a computer – but you do need to have high-speed Internet.
Subscription-based VOIP service might be provided by your cable company, which will also supply the necessary equipment. With this type of VOIP service, you use your regular phone for talking and you can keep your old landline number, but be aware that the quality of your calls will depend on the quality of your Internet connection, so if that’s spotty, your calls will be too. And while it’s cheaper than a landline, it still costs more than just using your cellphone. Here’s a helpful article about VoIP.
Subscription Based VOIP service
Here are a few of the least expensive VOIP services for unlimited domestic calling. They also work for international calling. In fact if you both have a Magic Jack you can make free international calls.
MagicJack is an easy to install device that plugs into a USB port on your computer (or in the case of magicJack Plus, plugs directly into an Internet router) and on the other end has a standard phone jack that plugs into any standard phone. For $69 a year for the first year and $35 annually thereafter, you can make unlimited phone calls to the U.S. and Canada. (Be sure to get the magicJack Plus for the best connection). This VoIP provider used to be the cheapie with bad reception, but they’ve upgraded their equipment, and reviews now give them top ratings for call quality, and you can keep your old landline number.
Basic Talk As with Magic Jack, you plug the Basic Talk box into your Internet router on one end and a regular phone on the other. It costs $9.99 a month for unlimited U.S. calling. You can order it online or buy it at Walmart. Reviews give it high marks for call quality, and you can keep your old landline number.
Vonage The granddaddy of VOIP, one of the first providers of Internet phone service is competitively priced at $9.99 per month, and call quality, which also used to be questionable, is now very good. Installation can be tricky, but the company’s customer service rep will walk you through it.
Computer Based VOIP
Skype Skype is a program or app that you download onto your computer, tablet or smartphone for U.S. and international video and voice calls – either outgoing only, or outgoing and incoming. Unlike other VoIP services, it doesn’t require an adaptor, but you do need a computer or mobile device. It also doesn’t require a subscription. The great thing about Skype is that it’s absolutely free if both you and the person you’re calling have it. I have Skype as an app on my phone, so I can make free calls over wi-fi to friends on Skype all over the world. If you’re calling someone who doesn’t have the Skype app installed on their computer or mobile device, you pay per minute. I use the Skype website to add money to my account; about one cent a minute is deducted for domestic calls (more when calling mobile phones); international rates vary but are much lower than with regular landline phone service. You can set up Skype so more money is automatically deducted if you run out mid-call – but the $10 I put in will last for years at the rate I’m going. If you want to receive calls through Skype, you need a Skype number, which costs $60 per year; that way, anyone – even people who don’t have Skype – can call you.
For some other top rated VoIP providers, click here.
The Hybrid Alternative: Cellular cordless home phone service
As a recent alternative to VoIP, both Verizon and Straight Talk are offering inexpensive home phone service for $20 and $15 a month respectively. These hybrids use a cellular signal with regular cordless home phones. To use the service, you need a special reception device, which you hook into your current cordless phones. If you have multiple cordless phones with one base unit, you can hook the base unit into the reception device and the others will connect to it. Both companies use Verizon’s cell towers – the best cell network in the country – which seamlessly provides good call quality. Straight Talk sells its device for $69.99 new or $15 refurbished, with a monthly service fee of $15.00. Verizon is offering its device for free to new customers with a fee of $20 per month. Both companies let you keep your current number.
Is there an advantage to this hybrid over VoIP? There might be, depending on cell service in your area. If you lose electricity, your hybrid phone may work if cell towers are still in service. They’re very easy to hook up, as well.
Have you cut the phone cord yet? Tell us about it.
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Erica Manfred is a journalist, essayist and humorist who writes about everything from dentistry to divorce to fantasy fiction. Friend her on Facebook.
Searching for an alternative solution we went with an Obihai OBi202 (the box with 2 lines cost on Amazon is around $70, no PC required to work with our landline phones. The OBi201 has 1 telephone line jack and is cheaper) which supports Google Voice. You can get a Google Voice telephone number for free or port your existing telephone number (usually for around $20). For E911 service we have opted to sign up with an E911 service provider at $15 per year. They show how to do this on the Obihai website when you set up the Obihai box.
There is no monthly charge for nationwide calls, international calls are cheap to pay for. The Obihai company does recommend paying the $10 per year maintenance fee to keep your VOIP box firmware up to date which we have decided to do as well. So after buying the Obihai box, a $10 per year maintenance fee and a $15 yearly subscription for E911 service make our yearly VOIP phone bill total at $25 per year which comes to approx. $2.08 per month total for VOIP phone service using our existing home phones.
If the internet drops or if you lose power, you get notified by your gmail account that you missed a new call or you can read the voicemail in your gmail. You can go as far as forwarding calls to your cell phone as well if you would like so that you never miss a call no matter where you’re at.
How’s this for an idea….Buy a Bluetooth phone that has additional hand sets. You need no landline. And you can put the handsets all over the house. They will all ring including your cell phone when you get a call. Just a thought!!!
I continue to keep a traditional telephone company landline in addition to my cell phone. I have three main reasons.
1. We have had power outages in my area that last more than a day and landline service is not dependent on electricity.
2. I detest playing phone tag and missing calls. I don’t want to run around the house looking for my cell. I have 5 regular phones, one if every room.
3. I am nervous about my cell phone breaking, losing it or leaving it at work, then I would be without phone service.
4. And finally, I frequently have visitors from out of the country whose cell phones don’t work. I need to be able to call my house to contact them and vice versa.
5. I am so used to the ultra clear connection that is unrivaled by VOIP and cell service. You can hear a pin drop on the other end.
So, how do I make it work? I use my landline for local calls only and the occasional long distance call when I misplace my cell phone.
The package that I have is called AT&T Consumer Choice Plus where I get Caller ID, Call Waiting and Unlimited local calls. It runs $19.70/month plus tax which winds up being around $27.00 total. I do have a non-published number.
And I chose Pioneer Telephone for my long distance provider. They do not charge a monthly fee at all, just 5 cents minute.
If POTS service is ever phased out, I don’t like the idea of VOIP simply because it requires you to have two services ….internet and telephone. I would probably change to a wireless home phone service like Verizon Home Phone Connect. It is stand alone.
My landline has caller id and call waiting. How are these affected by your alternatives?
Also, when it comes down to it, can any of the alternatives guarantee that the voice will be clear? I talk to people a lot for work and it can’t be sorta kinda.
My local line costs $30 a month. For me it’s not that bad considering we use it 10 times a day.
I am curious: whenever I talk to people on their cell I can’t here as well. I am a mentor to an 18 year old and I can’t understand a thing she says on her cell.
Does anyone have a cell phone and a provider that is as good as a land line? If so, what is it?
I have a landline in the bedroom and the kitchen. I love them. My sweetheart has a cell. I make long distance calls on it. Most incoming calls are a nuisance. My outgoing calls are the most important. I can stand by the answer machine and immediately know if it is a call I want or not. If I want the call, I can step right into it. If not, I just erase later or pick up and hang up. It is all second nature to me. My cost is low. Eventually I will get a smart phone, but now , let them compete and may the best ones win. I don’t want to be one of those people who walks around bent over a gadget. And I would definitely lose it! What a headache! I do not need apps! Too many are an easy way to get into your personal info. A cel phone could become an over-used habit. I want a bit of unattached freedom to be wherever I am fully. I have pets to touch. Most places I go still have an obligatory, public wall phone. Sand rarely a nice stranger or friend will gladly make a call for me. If I had a business or were competing financially, yes, I would need many tech gadgets.
What a very helpful article!
Still, it’s odd to read a discussion of landlines that doesn’t even mention fiberoptics — which have been replacing copper for the past 40 years.