Bye-Bye Landlines, Voice Communication?

Two separate reports paint quite a picture of how the way Americans communicate has changed — with dramatic implications for how business communications will be done in the future, as well.

One quarter of U.S. homes have given up their landlines and use only a cell phone, according to a new survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, The New York Times reports that while almost 90 percent of households in the United States now have a cell phone, the growth in voice minutes used has stalled in favor of data communications.

“One of every four American homes (24.5 percent) had only wireless telephones (also known as cellular telephones, cellphones, or mobile phones) during the last half of 2009 — an increase of 1.8 percentage points since the first half of 2009,” the National Center for Health Statistics wrote in a report (available here in PDF format).

“In addition, one of every seven American homes (14.9 percent) had a landline yet received all or almost all calls on wireless telephones.”

Meanwhile, the Times cited data from the CTIA — the mobile industry trade association — showing that the average length of a local call in 2009 was 1.81 minutes, down from 2.27 minutes in 2008.

Texting, on the other hand, has gone through the roof. CTIA said there were more than 1.5 trillion text messages sent last year, a 50 percent year-over-year increase that averaged five billion texts a day at the end of the year. American teenagers, long known as phone talkers, are now letting their fingers do the talking. More than half of them send about 1,500 text messages each month, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

The wireless carriers love this, because the money is in data plans, not voice plans, noted Avi Greengart, research director for mobile products at Current Analysis. And while the numbers are surprising, there’s more to it, he added.

“I think some of these trends are a little overblown. Rise in text and dip in voice is due to the competitive factors that have forced voice package prices down and forced carriers to offer unlimited packages,” he told

He noted that U.S. minutes of voice usage are still higher than anywhere else in the world. “So we may be talking less and texting more, but we’re still talking a heck of a lot. We’re just using these devices more,” Greengart said.

The loss of landlines is connected to cell phones, but Greengart noted that it’s not entirely attributable to an abandonment of wired lines. Cable providers like Comcast and Time Warner offer phone services, as does Verizon via its FIOS service and AT&T through its U-Verse service, all which are IP-based networks, not copper wire.

And that doesn’t mean Americans are talking less. On the contrary, Greengart argued that we are communicating more. “We’ve gone from an era where the only way to get in touch with someone was by phone. Then came e-mail, then text and now social network messages and instant messenger. So all these forms of communication are used in tandem in many cases,” he said.

The trend toward multichannel IP-based communications should come as no surprise to the enterprise IT manager wrestling with how to combat — or co-opt — these new forms of messaging within the workplace, or struggling with how to manage an increasingly mobile body of workers.

And if businesses want to connect with customers, they need to begin doing it using the various channels consumers now prefer — and that means companies will need more than a toll-free number.

“It needs to be text and social networks and text and e-mail and instant message,” Greengart said. “So if enterprises want to be relevant to their customer base, they need to embrace new forms of communication, which really aren’t even new anymore.”

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.