Friday, July 2, 2010

Telephones: Not Ready to Give Up my Land Line Yet

I like cellular phones. They have changed civilization as much as fire, the wheel, and indoor plumbing. I covet the iPhone and one day I hope to own one.

We're in a transition period, between a world that is 100% land lines (that's the new term for wired-into-the-wall-somewhere telephones) and a world that is 100% cellular phones. Most people or families have both. Some of my friends have gotten rid of their land lines and gone completely to cellular phones. They have several reasons for switching, some of which are listed below:
  • convenience and portability
  • freedom from the monopoly of "the phone company"
  • one-stop shopping for voice, text, internet, whatever
  • connectivity
(I've written about connectivity before. It's not necessarily a good thing.)

I'm not ready to give up my land line yet. My reasons for keeping it are listed below:
  • cost
  • reliability
  • latency
  • sound quality

Cellular phone service has come down in price, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. The cellular phone companies are great at nickel-and-diming their customers for additional services and for miscellaneous fees, a technique carried over from their land-line billing practices. If times get hard and I have to trim my budget, I can save a lot more money by discontinuing my cellular service than by unplugging my land line.

Unfortunately, discontinuing one's cellular service is not that simple. Most cellular providers lock you into a service plan for a certain period of time. Some providers, such as Cricket, do not, but most do. This means that you won't start saving money until your contract ends.

Land lines have it all over cell phones as far as reliability is concerned. Cell phone service is always a gamble, and not just when you're driving in a car. Dropped calls happen at the most annoying times, even when you're merely sitting in your living room. In the event of a widespread power outage or other natural disaster, cell phones are useless as communication devices.

As for land line handsets, if you still have one of the old-fashioned Western Electric electromechanical phones (the kind that only plugs into the phone jack and not into an electrical outlet, and that has a real bell inside), you can send and receive phone calls through some of the worst disasters, including power failures.

Latency, in Cell Phone Land, refers to the delay between the time you say something and the time the person on the other end hears what you said. We have all experienced the awkward cellphone conversations where one person tries to respond too quickly, or both start talking at once and don't realize they're talking on top of each other for a second or two. Latency is a phenomenon dictated by the laws of nature. Like gravity, it's something you can't avoid.

With land lines, latency is near zero. Computers and modems can detect the latency on a land line, but humans can't. It makes for smoother conversations, less frustration and less stress.

And finally, the voice quality on most cellphone calls is terrible. I don't really understand why we spend more money to make our voices sound so bad - sometimes downright unintelligible. I often catch myself wondering if I sound as bad to the person on the other end of the line as they sound to me.

Cellphones are the future of mankind; it's undeniable. But don't be too quick to abandon the past. Some moves to embrace the future are not necessarily good moves (like "upgrading" from Windows XP to Windows Vista).

1 comment:

Sarah Elkins said...

We still have a landline for similar reasons! The "disaster" reason alone we use often because we have had unreliable power for the last few years.

I agree that cellular services are stabbing their customers constantly, and my husband refuses to sign a contract. We have found prepaid services meet our needs and we spend a lot less than most of our friends. If only everyone would be willing to stick it to the cell companies for a couple of years I think things would change!