- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Q: I’m thinking of canceling my land line phone service and using my cell phone as my only phone. How do I go about it? Are there any drawbacks?

A: An increasing number of cell phone customers are dropping traditional phone service and relying on cell phones alone. According to the technology think tank Gartner Inc., up to 10 percent of the nation’s 170 million cell phone customers have given up their land lines.

The savings, of course, can vary from person to person, from $20 for basic phone customers to up to $100 or more for people who use a great deal of long-distance minutes.

Dumping your land line is pretty easy — just call the phone company and cancel your service. But before you cancel, you should review your last land-line phone statement to determine how many minutes of local and long-distance calls you used, and then make sure you have enough minutes in your wireless plan to cover the added use.

“You may find that the savings really doesn’t exist if you have to substantially upgrade your wireless plan,” said Tole Hart, senior research analyst at Gartner. “In that case, you’re simply opting for more portability, not necessarily for savings.”

Most cell-phone-only customers tend to be young, Mr. Hart said, and most are single. Families find it more difficult to move to a cell-phone-only lifestyle, as a land-line phone often is the central point of communication for everyone in the household. Family cell phone plans can alleviate this to a certain degree, but then the savings from not having a land line truly are buried in the costs of multiple cell phones and a high amount of use.

While the economics might not work in all cases, the portability and ease of use does, since the chance of missing important phone calls decreases considerably, no matter where you are. However, there are certainly drawbacks to forgoing your land-line phone.

According to a Gartner survey of 294 cell phone customers who had not canceled their traditional phone service, 27 percent said the poor quality of cellular service kept them from making the change, while 21 percent cited costs. Another 12 percent said they needed their land-line service for their dial-up Internet connection, while 5 percent said they would pass because they couldn’t switch their fixed-line phone number to their cellular service.

However, just as customers now can keep their cell phone number when switching plans, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association said it is working with the Federal Communications Commission and traditional phone companies to allow the portability of home phone numbers to cell phone plans within the same area code.

Still, there are other considerations. Cell phones are small and easily misplaced, and, should you lose your cell phone, your main point of contact with the outside world is gone until you buy a new phone.

“I lost my cell and was without a phone for three days, and my mother thought I had dropped off the face of the earth,” said Kim Reynolds, 24, an administrative assistant in Manhattan, N.Y. “I still think it’s a little cheaper and more convenient to have the phone with me everywhere. But I’ve learned to keep a much better eye on it.”

Then there’s the case of emergencies. A traditional land-line 911 call automatically tells emergency responders your address — even if you are unable to say a word. With a cell phone, your location only can be narrowed down to within a few miles of the nearest cellular tower.

And should a major blackout occur, like the one that paralyzed New York City along with the rest of the Northeast in August 2003, your cellular service could be knocked out entirely, and recharging your phone would be difficult.

You still can dial 911 from a land-line phone, however, even if you have no service whatsoever. But a land line also can be more reliable for reaching family and friends during emergencies.


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