The Fade of the Wired Phone Accelerates


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.