Will the landline phone become obsolete?

Pay phones are becoming few and far between, and landlines may soon follow. See more cell phone pictures.
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Remember pay phones? Those telltale rectangular booths situated at every other street corner for your calling convenience? Well, it looks like Superman will have to find a new place to change, because they're quickly becoming a thing of the past (except in places like airports). If current trends continue, landline phones may soon join pay phones in the technology graveyard.

When was the last time you memorized someone's home number? It's probably been a while, as more people are beginning to make the majority of their calls on cell phones. In the U.S. and Europe, roughly 75 percent of the respective populations are wireless subscribers [source: Mobile Internet, Wireless Industry News]. Some European countries even expect to exceed 100 percent wireless penetration soon, due to people purchasing multiple devices [source: Mobile Pipeline].

As of late 2007, 16 percent of U.S. households had no landline whatsoever, compared to just 5 percent in 2004 [source: Associated Press]. If that rapid trend of ditching landlines continues, half of the U.S. could be without one in about 10 years.

Among the people who have landlines in the U.S., 13 percent nevertheless rely on their cell phones for the majority of their calls. Across the country, people are hanging up their home phones:

  • In New York state, the number of landline subscribers has fallen by 55 percent since the year 2000.
  • New Jersey landline subscribers have decreased by 50 percent.
  • Similar trends exist Down Under, where industry analysts expect 1.4 million Aussies to cancel their landlines by the end of 2008. [source: Associated Press, Cauley, Woolrich].

Even businesses are ditching their wires for more economical options, like WiFi and VoIP (voice over Internet protocol). Ford's Detroit headquarters, for example, recently purchased 8,000 wireless phones for the staff and ripped up its landlines. Eighty-five percent of the company's business is now conducted wirelessly [source: Foster]. It's not just major players like Ford who are embracing the new technologies, either. In New Jersey, sanitation distributor Laymen Global also has abandoned its landlines, except for a few it's keeping for emergencies.

People who have made the switch cite several benefits. Wireless communication saves money on local and long-distance phone charges, frees people up from their desks and prevents having to lay new cables. Laymen Global, the New Jersey company, saved $4,600 on its phone bill by forgoing landlines [source: Runner].

Yet other people aren't convinced that landlines have outstayed their welcome. Learn why landlines may stick around on the next page.