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Could landlines be a necessity? The AT&T outage shows why cellphones alone may not be enough.

By Charles Passy

Only 25% of adults currently have both types of phones

Like so many other phone users, Lindsay Woods ditched her landline some years ago and now relies solely on her cellphone. But after last week's AT&T (T) outage, the Oregon resident is starting to have second thoughts.

Woods' concern? As a veteran publicist and marketing professional who runs her own firm, she wants to make sure she can always be available to clients. But even more important: Woods has a medical condition that could necessitate an emergency call on a moment's notice.

So now Woods is looking into having a landline again. "I think we've become too dependent on one thing and I'm guilty of that for certain," she said.

Chances are Woods is not alone. We've become a cellphone nation: According to the most recent government statistics, about 70% of the adult population is strictly wireless - meaning they live in households without a landline. And only about 25% of adults have both a cellphone and landline.

Telecommunications professionals and experts warn that going without a landline carries risks. And given the often relatively low monthly cost of having a landline - in some cases, as little as $10 - it may be worth it to spend the money and have that all-important backup.

Consider that the AT&T outage was hardly the only one of its kind. In fact, there are more than 4,000 network outages a month, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report citing data from the Federal Communications Commission.

But it's not just about having a backup: A landline offers other advantages. And those hold true whether you're referring to the traditional plug-in-the-wall system that relies on wiring or the modern Voice over Internet Protocol technology that provides service via the Internet (think of VoIP as a kind of digital landline - and it's usually far cheaper than the traditional landline).

An oft-cited issue: A landline can be invaluable not just as an emergency backup, but also in certain emergency scenarios no matter what. That's because when you make a 911 call with a landline, your location can often be immediately identified by the call center, which makes it easier to send help right away. That's not necessarily the case with cellphones.

If you're in a situation where you can't speak loudly and clearly - say, because of a medical crisis or because there's an intruder in your home - that can be critically important in terms of summoning emergency personnel to your home, experts note.

"You just pick up the phone, they're going to be there in five minutes," said Tommy Steed, a former telecommunications professional who now chairs the Association of BellTel Retirees.

Not that landline systems are completely infallible. A VoIP phone can potentially be affected by an Internet outage, though backup plans are often built into such systems. Also, if you're using a phone that requires electricity - and almost all modern phones, such as cordless ones, do - you might be out of luck during a power outage, though a backup battery can solve that problem, at least temporarily.

Some people also make the point that a landline phone is simply more reliable in terms of connectivity and clarity. That is, you don't hear people asking "Can you hear me now?" as much.

Even though wireless-phone networks continue to dominate the market, at least one VoIP provider, Ooma (OOMA), says its base of users is growing slightly. Ooma reports that it has about 1 million customers, including both residential and business.

Ooma spokesman Mike Langberg also makes the point that not everyone lives in an area with great cell service, either. "That's another reason" to have a landline, he said.

But you don't need to sell Rob Wheat, a resident of Overland Park, Kan., on the need for a landline.

Wheat, 55 years old, has had one for three decades. And while he now has a cellphone, too, he said he doesn't want to risk being without any means of communication, as in a wireless outage situation.

"I'll always have a landline. I'll be the last person on earth with one," he said.

-Charles Passy

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

02-27-24 0752ET

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