Monday, July 9, 2007

More Americans are ditching their land-line phones and using wireless devices as their primary telephones.

During the last six months of 2006, one out of every eight Americans (13 percent) lived in a wireless-only household, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Joe Farren of the wireless trade association CTIA calls this important and growing demographic the “cord-cutters.”

“Three years ago, only 7 percent of wireless users were cord-cutters; now we’re at 12.8 percent,” said Mr. Farren, the trade group’s spokesman. “So we’re definitely seeing an increase.”

There are three major reasons for this acceleration, he said.

“First, wireless carriers have invested in upgrading their networks, and as a result, the networks are far more robust with far fewer dropped calls.

“Secondly, mobile phones are like 20th-century Swiss army knives. These devices allow folks to text message, e-mail, surf the Internet, listen to music, watch movies and make phone calls.

“Finally, these things are mobile; they’re mini-computers in the palm of your hand, and they go wherever you go,” he said.

“To some extent this is a generational thing.”

According to a recent survey by Gartner Inc., 30 percent of all wireless customers ages 18 to 34 use their mobile phones as their only phone.

“My parents have a land line, but I don’t see the point when I’ve already got a phone in my pocket,” said Rob Dickey, a student at Catholic University.

“Plus, you can’t text message or send pictures from a land-line phone,” Mr. Dickey said. “I don’t understand why anyone uses them anymore.”

Some people prefer the privacy of a cell phone and the knowledge that salesmen and solicitors can’t find their number in a phone book.

“Cell phones are very personal devices, and we have not decided to publish a directory of cell-phone numbers,” said Heather Buffington, a spokeswoman for AT&T, publisher of the Yellow Pages phone directory.

For others, the reason to cut the cord is simply a matter of economics.

“I’m on a pretty tight budget right now, and there is no way I could afford a land-line bill on top of what I’m already paying for my cell phone,” said Ian Foster, a student at Montgomery College.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, students and families on a budget are more likely to live in a wireless-only household (22 percent) than those who are financially stable (11 percent).

According to the FCC, the adoption of land-line phone services peaked in 2000 with 192 million subscribers. But the number of land-line customers steadily decreased to 175 million in 2005.

But don’t cut that cord just yet: land-line telephones are still useful to some consumers who prefer the reliability of a home telephone.

“Families with children tend to value the security of having a phone that won’t run out of batteries or fall out of range when there is an emergency,” said Jim Smith, a spokesman for Verizon Communications Inc.

“What we argue voraciously is that wireless is good and cable is good, but there is nothing better for phone calling than a network that is designed to do just that,” he said.

One of the big downsides to living without a land line is that cell-phone reception can be weak in some homes.

“Radio frequency penetrates some sites, but not all of them,” said Andy Seybold an analyst at Andrew Seybold Inc., a research and consulting firm in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“A good analogy is what happens if you squirt water at a screen window: Some of the water goes through, and some of it splashes back. When you squirt water at a glass window, all of the water will splash back,” he said.

“The same is true for building materials — the denser the walls in your home, the harder it is for reception to go through,” Mr. Seybold said.

And for those late adopters, some just prefer the nostalgia of having a home phone.

“Millions of people have been brought up on wire-line technology. It’s something that they are comfortable with and want to continue to use,” Mr. Farren said.

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