Stranger things could happen: the decline of the telephone landline

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For those of you not familiar with the barnstorming Netflix series, now in its second series, Stranger Things tells a Steven King-esque tale of scary monsters and plucky middle school heroes, set rigidly in the 1980s, complete with nostalgia and outdated technology.

Viewers of season two were treated to characters’ use of an incredibly bulky JVC video camera, old-school ghetto-blasters and, of course, wired telephones whenever characters needed to exchange information. No 4G accessing smartphones here, or GPS to help track down lost characters.

Much of the drama and fun of Stranger Things relies on the characters inhabiting a technological backwater, devoid of smartphones and Google, but also brought to this blogger’s attention the fact that land lines are barely used by today’s plucky child heroes...

The upside-down… use of land lines

Indeed, BT seemed to come to the same conclusion last month when the firm announced it would cut line rental fees for customers only using a landline telephone service. The 37 per cent price cut was agreed voluntarily after Ofcom’s latest review of the UK telecoms market, which found that those who bought bundled services – which might include broadband or paid-for TV – were getting a better deal than those just getting line rental.

Indeed, the move would represent an annual saving of £84, or £7 a month, for around a million phone-only users, most of whom are aged 65 or over.

It means that users are a bit freer to pick and choose their phone, broadband and associated services from different providers, if they so choose.

Ofcom says it hopes the move will be picked up by other ISPs - much as the Upside-Down spreads throughout Hawkins – and spur them onto better customer service via the competition offered. The regulator said its research showed that line rental charges have been hiked by between 23 per cent and 47 per cent in real terms, though wholesale costs have dropped by 27 per cent.

Many providers have also completely withdrawn their landline-only products in the wake of a lack of demand. Ofcom’s own statistics find that 18 per cent of British adults now live in a “mobile-only home”, i.e. one where only mobiles fulfil their voice telephony requirements.  Statista’s research says that only 78 per cent of UK households use a landline to make and receive calls, down from 83 per cent last year.

New-school solutions

Ofcom and BT’s deal, however, may not make things better from those few throwbacks who, like Stranger Things, need corded telephones to be able to function.

For one, BT’s discount is only available for those who do not have a separate broadband service, with customers attempting to use a non-BT ISP finding they would be no longer eligible.

If other ISPs are prompted into action, writes Mark Jackson on ISP Review, it could also mean that smaller ISPs may feel pressure to offer a bundled solution rather than “expanding consumer choice and flexibility”. There might also be conflicts around other specialist services and contracts signed, such as broadband via 4G mobile, shared WiFi services or FTTP/H providers like Gigaclear.

It may also be that landlines fall by the wayside eventually. Many service providers are turning to alternative web-based phone solutions, such as hSo’s own IP Telephony system which is not only super-reliable, but adds a whole host of cloud-enabled facilities to a service.

Indeed, VoIP and similar services are already helping save businesses costs, improve productivity and able to work remotely.

After all, phone services aren’t going to remain wired into the wall outside of Stranger Things. We’re not psychic, but the evidence is already there.

Since publishing this blog post, some of the originals sources have been updated/removed, so we have updated the links above as we feel appropriate.


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