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What Is a Landline Phone? A Complete Beginner‘s Guide

The Groundbreaking Beginning: Origins of the Telephone Network

It‘s easy to take live voice communication over distance for granted in an era when video chat fits in your pocket. But early forms of electronic transmission consisted of rudimentary telegraph systems sending shorthand taps through wires.

Alexander Graham Bell‘s pioneering work with sound and electricity toward helping the deaf ultimately birthed the first device able to share the nuances of natural speech in real-time across miles. On March 10th, 1876 in Boston, the first intelligible telephone call rang through with Bell summoning his assistant famously crying out "Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you!"

From those humble origins, researchers rapidly iterated on Bell‘s breakthroughs, expanding the reach of early telephone networks. Self-taught electrical engineer Almon Brown Strowger contributed a crucial automatic telephone exchange in 1892 allowing operators to connect home phone lines. This milestone meant no longer having to manually control calls by plugging and unplugging cables.

Antique candlestick telephone

Early telephones like this candlestick model transmitted voices through physical lines (Image credit: Pixabay)

As insulating paper and then polyethylene replaced less durable telephone cable sheathing in the mid-20th century, the paths facilitating landline communication grew more robust and reliable. The rotary dial yielding to touch-tone keypads in the 1960s marked the last major evolution before fiber optics and other modern infrastructure upgrades.

But while the technology powering landlines radically changed, the general concept endured over a hundred years as the way to speak with someone distant…until cellular mobile phones unlocked voice communication freed from cords.

Defining the Landline: What Is It?

So what exactly makes a telephone a landline? There are a few key features distinguishing landlines from today‘s mobile devices:

Hardwired Communication

Landlines connect to vast telephone networks through actual physical lines that may take the form of copper wires or fiber optic cables strategically buried or suspended between poles. Unique sets of numbers get assigned to lines associated with buildings rather than people.

Landline wiring

Wires and cables transmit landline signals (Image credit: Pixabay)

Location-Based Service

Telephone numbers still correspond to fixed addresses with landlines. Even if you opt for a portable wireless handset, changing location takes coordinating with your provider. This contrasts sharply with mobile numbers following you wherever signal reaches.

Power Supply

Landlines don‘t require charging because telephone line infrastructure handles not just call signals but also powering the handsets. This makes them much more resilient whenever electricity gets disrupted.

Limited Mobility

Cordless landline phones offer some flexibility to roam while chatting, but you can only stray so far from the base station plugged into a phone jack. And taking the devices outside usually results in static or dropped calls as distances exceed the wireless range.

So in summary, a landline telephone facilitates communication through underground cables or telephone poles connected to a static address. The network itself energy powers situated handsets across short distances without batteries.

The Pros and Cons of Landlines in the Modern World

Landline telephones have some unique benefits but also definite drawbacks when compared to mobile phone alternatives most people now use daily.

List of landline pros and cons


  • Extremely reliable service
  • Excellent call quality
  • Works during power outages
  • Tough to hack or tap remotely
  • No dropped calls or dead zones
  • Crisper call clarity


  • Monthly fees can seem outdated
  • Limited mobility
  • Installation and equipment costs
  • Can’t easily take number with you
  • No texting capabilities
  • Physical damage can disrupt service

The biggest advantage of conventional landlines is how dependable they are thanks to that dedicated physical infrastructure. Inclement weather rarely interrupts service. Sound clarity noticeably surpasses spotty mobile calls. And landlines typically function even if the power goes out since POTS lines power their own handsets. These factors mean no dropped calls or dead zones.

From a security perspective, it‘s also exceedingly difficult for scammers to illegally access a landline without literally tapping the lines. No online element means less vulnerabilities. Of course, being tethered close to home with no texting fails to meet most communication needs. And paying for landline service alongside mobile and internet bills feels dated. New setup costs and lack of portability are other downsides to weigh if considering getting or keeping a landline.

By the Numbers: Landline Usage in Steep Decline

It’s no secret that mobile phones have been decisively eclipsing landlines for voice communication duties traditionally handled by the old reliable POTS lines. The statistics demonstrating landlines rapidly ceding ground are quite stark.

Chart showing landline usage declining from 90% down below 30% over the past 20 years

Landline usage statistics over time (Source: CDC, Statista)

Specific numbers demonstrating the fading importance of telephones hardwired to a location inside your house:

  • As of December 2021, only 23.1% of U.S. households still paid for landline service, according to the CDC.
  • That figure stood at over 90% of American homes with landlines back in 2000 prior to mobile phones taking over communication duties.
  • 5% of households are now wireless only after cutting the cord and giving up landlines completely in favor of cell phones.
  • The overall number of landlines in use drops at an average rate of 10-15% annually indicating mobile substitution.

Sure landlines still exist in roughly a quarter of homes, but mobile devices have taken over nearly all duties for the average consumer outside of some niche applications. The one silver lining for landline stalwarts is modest recent declines indicating those still clutching to longtime family phone numbers may never cut the cord.

Who Still Uses Landlines and Why?

While mobile phones now dominate personal communication for most individuals, certain entities still leverage conventional landlines enough to sustain declining infrastructure. A few niche holdouts explain why POTS persists despite cellular domination on the consumer level.

Businesses – Major corporations still run operational aspects through tried-and-true landlines impervious to patchy cellular. Call centers route customer service to endless banks. Company phone systems manage internal contacts. Fax machines cling to life over POTS.

Government – Sensitivity concerns have bureaucratic red tape sustaining landlines ranging from hotlines to dispatch services to emergency weather alerts. Resistance to change means public offices support outdated phone infrastructure.

Elderly – Many seniors aged 65+ grew up with landlines as the only home phone option and still gravitate toward familiar low-tech devices without touchscreens or apps. They appreciate consistency and physical buttons.

Rural Areas – Vast remote stretches lacking robust cell towers keep POTS infrastructure threaded across poles as residents have learned not to rely exclusively on spotty mobile reception.

Businesses still rely extensively on conventional phone infrastructure resilient to power and network interruptions. Risk aversion has government slow to cut cords. Meanwhile nostalgia and simplicity maintain landlines for the elderly. And inadequate rural cellular coverage compels residents to hedge bets across both communication mediums.

Landline Alternatives for the 21st Century

You have options if unwilling to go completely wireless but want modern flexibility beyond short cords stretched from immovable plastic handsets. Digital phone services leverage broadband connections to deliver home phone functionality without physical lines.

Voice Over IP Illustration

VoIP home telephone service

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

VoIP services like Vonage provide subscribers telephone numbers that usually let you make and receive calls through apps or wired base stations hooked up to your router. MagicJack, Ooma Telo, and Google Voice also put out “virtual landlines" tied to an address transmitted over the internet rather than POTS lines.

Cell Phones

Mobile devices overlapping with landlines on reliability and call quality convince many there’s little purpose paying for redundant household phone fees. The rise of unlimited plans and WiFi calling have erased most historical advantages. Going wireless-only makes increasing sense for individuals.

The Verdict: Should You Still Have a Landline in 2023?

There‘s no definitive answer on whether paying for traditional landline service still makes sense in the age of ubiquitous — and dependable — mobile devices. For the average consumer with solid cellular reception at home, ditching or sticking with their landline offers negligible benefit either way outside minor hassle or sentimental attachment. Terminating telephone service that seems outdated by technological advances doesn‘t raise practical concerns for most individials and households.

However, people still used to landlines appreciate the consistency and businesses rely on resilience. And those living in rural areas with spotty cellular coverage may come to regret abandoning old reliable POTS infrastructure that continues facilitating a share of vital communication. There’s also the environmental issue of unused copper in landlines causing more harm to produce than modernizing with recyclable fiber optics.

In the end, conventional landlines will almost certainly fade into history much like telegraphs and floppy disks. But niche reliability demands combined with fond memories of yesteryear likely assure Plain Old Telephone Service remains an outlet for phone calls should the mobile network ever go down. The past staying alive through the wires linking the future.

Have you cut the landline cord yet or are you holding onto your home telephone number? Let me know in the comments if you still think landlines serve a purpose!