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The untimely death of the landline

The premature death of the home phone

5 March 2022

9:00 AM

5 March 2022

9:00 AM

I can count on the fingers of one hand the people I know who still have a landline telephone, and I am not among them. Getting one installed in my new home is feasible but why, my children ask, would I bother? I have a mobile phone, albeit a very basic one, and what more can a person need?

To anyone under the age of 50, retaining a landline seems like a fogey-ish affectation. Indeed, one of my daughters has a rotary-dial handset, not as a back-up phone but as an ironic décor item. Because if you’re wearing a belt, why have braces?

For mobile users there’s the back-up possibility of something called a cloud. Otherwise, nothing. You entrust your appointment diary, address book and photo collection to one device: your mobile phone. Neat and efficient, until it falls out of your pocket. Then it’s not just your phone that’s down the toilet. It’s your whole life.

A landline phone, on the other hand, can be drowned only if you’re very determined. It’s virtually impossible to lose. Neither will anyone mug you for it. And unlike the phones of my post-war childhood, installed in arctic hallways so as to discourage lengthy and costly conversations, a landline is now more likely to sit in majesty in your living room. It’s available when you need it, but not constantly buzzing and pinging where e’er you walk. You can get away from it. So, two cheers at the very least for landlines.

Hard to imagine, but it was once thought that telephones wouldn’t catch on. They seemed like an intrusion, an imposition. A bell rang and you were expected to respond like an anxious parlour maid. Was this progress? But gradually the imposition became a status symbol. My parents had the first one on our street and neighbours would occasionally, in urgent need, ask to use it. They would approach it in awe. A phone in the house! One could call Canada while wearing pyjamas. The sheer luxury of it.


That phone in the house is now in our pockets, our constant companion, slave and master. We can make and receive calls right up to the moment of curtain-up or take-off and, human nature being what it is, because we can, we do. Oh, but wait. What about when your mobile phone doesn’t work? What if – trigger warning – there’s no signal?

People who live in cities take mobile coverage for granted in a way those who live in the backwoods cannot. I speak as one who used to have to lean out of a window in the general direction of north Wales in order to make a call on my Irish mobile. Fortunately, I had the alternative of a landline, on hand for emergencies or for a leisurely natter with my sister-in-law in America. That phone worked perfectly every time.

I must now deliver some worrying news. By the end of 2025 all remaining landlines will be converted to a digital service. Perhaps you already know. No more copper wires and no option either. It’ll be digital or nothing. So much for customer choice.

This will mean, inter alia, that in the event of a power cut, your phone and related services such as burglar alarms and care helplines won’t work unless you have a back-up battery pack. The phone companies say they’ll have this eventuality covered. Good luck with that.

So, three years from now, reliability, one of the strongest cases for holding on to a landline, will have been undermined. Will we live to regret this? Time flies and soon enough today’s bright young advocates for a wireless world will be old and frail and alone. How will they feel when Storm Nebuchadnezzar cuts them off from help?

Another point in defence of the landline phone: it isn’t addictive. You don’t check it for a dialing tone every few minutes or use it to send photos of your genitals to strangers. When you go out for a walk, you leave it behind and even when you’re at home, you don’t always feel compelled to answer it.

Agreed, mobiles have their advantages. Actually, some have a rather enviable feature: different ring tones for different callers. If they made that available on landlines, I’d be first in the queue. I’ve already picked out a couple of appropriate tunes: ‘Ode to Joy’, the Dead March from Saul. You get the picture. How handy would that be?

In lamenting the demise of landlines, I don’t at all mean to detract from the usefulness of mobiles. Let’s face it, when your car breaks down on Bodmin Moor it’s your mobile phone you’re thankful for. Assuming, of course, that you can find a signal.

But what price your streamlined, mobile-only life when Dudley, Eunice and Franklin come barrelling in and knock out your electricity? As you huddle by the light of a guttering candle, the power draining from your phone, wouldn’t it be very comforting indeed to have a landline you could rely on?

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