The Fade of the Wired Phone Accelerates

Carl Weinschenk

One of the clearest signals in a long time that the world has changed is the finding by the National Centers for Health Statistics that the number of cell phone-only households is greater than the number that exclusively use wired phones. The organization has to track this in order to ensure its studies reflect real-world conditions.

It's not exactly earth-shattering news at this point, but the results reaffirm the fact that the wireline phone business is fading.


As far as inflection points go, the study by the NCHS throws down a good marker: The survey said that more than 20 percent of American households are cell-only, while between 17 and 18 percent rely solely on wired phones. That means that only a tad more than 60 percent still use both. The move to cells is accelerating rapidly. During the first six months of 2003, only 3 percent of households were cell-only. Six years is a long time in telecommunications, but the movement of 17 percent -- and ahead of landline-only -- still is significant, especially because it tracks the decline of wireline phones. Stephen Blumberg, a senior scientist for the Centers for Disease Control, says that the recession is at least part of the reason for the quicker recent migration to cells.


Carriers need new revenue streams, and it seems that they are making a go of it with AT&T's U-verse, Verizon's FiOS and a slew of lower-profile projects in rural areas. Despite that laudable level of proactivity, bleeding customers so quickly from what still is, at least nominally, their core business should worry phone executives. The world clearly is moving to wireless and mobility.


Blumberg's point that the recession has a lot to do with the speed at which wired customers are leaving is well taken. What also must be true, however, is that the vast majority of those households aren't coming back -- even if they land six-figure jobs tomorrow.

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May 20, 2009 2:48 AM Kim Kim  says:

I would also like to know the answers to Dave's questions above.  I personally know many people that keep their land line phone only because it's bundled in with their high-speed Internet, TV/cable, and cell phones.  Otherwise, I think the 'cell phone only' statistic would be a good bit higher.

May 20, 2009 2:52 AM Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk  says: in response to Kim

They are interesting questions, and I have no answer. It also would be interesting to see if those numbersonce we have themshift appreciably in a given area once it gets 4G.

May 20, 2009 12:56 PM Dave Dave  says:

How many mobile-phone-only houses have any kind of Internet access? What percent of those are wired? Wireless?

May 27, 2009 10:20 AM Keith Keith  says:

We primarily use cell phones at home (free national long distance, etc).  We still maintain a land-line phone, but it is the absolute most basic service with no features.  We have it for 2 primary reasons: one for emergencies (911 call pinpoints exactly where you are and in the event of a large-scale emergency won't have overloaded cell tower signals).  Also we have our home security system tied into it, which many monitoring systems/companies still don't support cell service or cell providers prohibit this type of activity on their plan.  Also, the landline phone service is reliable and has NEVER gone out at our house and has built-in power so (unlike internet phone access without a UPS) will be up even if the power and/or cable go out.

We use cable for our high-speed internet access which is completely separate from the phone lines.  Often those who have satellite service use land/phone lines for high speed DSL type access and phone service so they may bundle their services together.

May 29, 2009 2:45 AM Alden Anderson Alden Anderson  says:

Looking at my phone bill I wonder if all the taxes at the bottom will shift to my wireless bill.  Uncle Sam needs/wants revenue stream also.

May 29, 2009 8:34 AM Kay Kay  says:

Remember the huge power outage that hit the midwest and northeast a few years ago?  The cell phones in our area were all out -- no connection to the satellites.  If our country depended on wireless connectivity, what would be the result of one of the hot-headed nations taking out the satellites that might be the basis of the future economy?  Think I'll keep a land line as well as my cell. 


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