Landline or Cellphone?
December 15, 2003 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Cut the landline and go cellphone-only? Help me decide. [more inside]

OK, I'm one of those Luddites who for years has gone around muttering "You're not going to get me using one of those newfangled cell-phones, by cracky!" Except that now I might need one for a work project I'm taking on, and it's started me thinking--I pay $23/mo. for a landline phone that I seldom use (I average maybe 3-4 calls made/received per week). If I ditched it and went with one of the prepaid cellular plans, I could get by with around $15/mo. (The minutes one buys do expire within a set period of time, so one's stuck with regular payments of one sort or another.)

So I'm wondering what others' experiences have been with going to cellular-only -- are there drawbacks I'm not thinking of? And also, does anyone have experiences with/recommendations for prepaid plans? A few bits of info:

--I live in a large metro area (Twin Cities), but I would seldom be using the phone while wandering around town.
--On the other hand, I *do* like to make long solo car trips, sometimes to the rural hinterlands, and it'd be nice to have a useable phone on these jaunts for emergencies, so I would really like a provider that has the most extensive/robust nationwide coverage area.
--I don't really care about the bells&whistles (e-mail, text messaging, games, etc.).
--I very seldom use long distance. (Keeping in touch with distant friends is what God made e-mail for, after all.)

I've decided to stop worrying about the whole health-effects/blood-brain barrier thing, since at 50 my brain's on the downhill path anyway, and the cigarettes and booze'll probably get me first.

So--any suggestions or info gratefully received.
posted by Kat Allison to Technology (32 answers total)
Not sure if these are the hinterlands you're refering to, but I've found that my Sprint PCS loses all signal anywhere north of Duluth.
posted by bonheur at 3:18 PM on December 15, 2003

Virgin mobile (the only prepaid service I know anything about) uses the same grid as SprintPCS, so that is something to consider.
posted by gatorae at 3:22 PM on December 15, 2003

Got any gadgets that require the landline?

I'd gladly go cell-only, but my TiVo needs the landline. Come to think of it, that's a pretty hefty subsidy for my TiVo use.
posted by o2b at 3:26 PM on December 15, 2003

Mobile might not make much sense for you.

First step is to look at the coverage maps of some cellular providers. None of the cellular networks really have good "hinterland" coverage, in my experience. Once you get much distance from an interstate, you're probably in analog-cell coverage. This is invariably too expensive to really countenance using (unless you dig up some kind of really exotic calling plan), and probably won't work if you actually try. Also note that you'll need a dual-mode (analog/digital) phone, and a provider that actually offers analog service. I think Sprint still does, and they seem to have pretty good digital coverage. Tmobile does not.

Also note that if you get a plan with very few minutes included and you make one really long call (say, to tech support), you've shot your wad and are into expensive extra minutes (which may run $0.50/min).

Having a cellphone is a nice convenience, and I have friends who have cut the cord, but this approach really works better for people who stay close to civilization. Also worth mentioning that with many plans, there's no distinction between local and long-distance, so go ahead and call your remote friends if you do get a cellphone.
posted by adamrice at 3:34 PM on December 15, 2003

Being in a similar fix a couple of years ago (cycle tourist, no long distance plan, relish time away from telephonic demons), I opted for the cheapest prepaid phone plan I could find. Losing the land line wasn't as much of an option for me: I heart DSL. I chose my provider on a combination of price and coverage.

It's ok. The phone doesn't cost me anything more than I put into it, but it's always ready to go for a ride. Was nice to have during the big power-out this summer too.
posted by bonehead at 3:48 PM on December 15, 2003

I don't have a landline, just a cell phone (I have cable internet) and I haven't had any problems. Last month was the first month in the year I've had the phone that I've gone over on minutes and that was becuase I had car problems at the end of the billing period. I do tend to stay pretty close to civilization, though. Be aware that whatever provider you choose may require a hefty-ish deposit and if you want more than a basic phone, you'll have to pay for it.
posted by eilatan at 3:51 PM on December 15, 2003

We just cut the cord here, and aside from having to change the official "home phone" on just about every account that requires one, it's been fairly transparent. (Yes, I understand that now it's required that even home phone numbers can be moved seamlessly to your cellular provider...)

Before, we were paying to two cellular providers, a local loop provider and a long distance provider.

Now, we pay one bill, a fraction of the previous four, and have two cellphones and a "home cellphone" that stays on-site for convenience, and sitter emergencies.

I think it's great save for one thing - the coverage for the provider we chose (T-Mobile), although very good pretty much everywhere *outside* is really bad inside my house.

Of course, TV reception is bad in my house too, so my house was probably built with an integral faraday cage.

Anyhoo, for a couple hundred, I'm going to splurge for a cell repeater for the house. It's not horrible on one of the phones, but the other two drop calls.
posted by tomierna at 3:51 PM on December 15, 2003

I've been mobile-only for over two years and I have no regrets. In fact, I don't even know what there could possibly be to regret. My phone usage is light, but not as light as yours, from the sound of it.

There are times I wish I had land-line clarity available for a heart-to-heart long distance call, but other than that, what's to consider? Service is rather spotty pretty much the world over, on all carriers, but compared to a phone that only works in your house, over by the fridge...

Personally, I really like the freedom it affords, though I am VERY squeamish about using it in public in a rude manner. I do use a headset and make long catch-up calls to out-of-town family when driving long distances. There have been multiple occasions when it's been useful in an emergency, or in a lost-in-a-crowd or trying-to-find-your-freeway-exit situation.

A few weeks back a friend of mine and I came upon a bloodied, unconscious cyclist who'd crashed going downhill on a mountain road. We were on our way to a hiking area. His fork had broken in two and he was bleeding from the ears. Within 5 minutes, we had emergency services there, thanks to cell phones, and even before that, some emergency medical advice from the operator.

Much as it surprises this once-upon-a-time-curmudgeon, I can't imagine life without a cell. Just avoid these guys.
posted by scarabic at 4:12 PM on December 15, 2003

You don't even have to change your number. You can port your land line number to the new cell phone. As of a couple weeks ago all wireless carriers must provide this service.
Anyone have any number portability stories?
posted by anathema at 4:15 PM on December 15, 2003

Sorry, tomierna, I didn't read your comment carefully.
posted by anathema at 4:17 PM on December 15, 2003

If you decide to keep the landline but want to cut the bill, I've been very happy with Vonage service (after this recommendation). I didn't want to scrap the home phone thing altogether, but was tired of paying $70 a month for Verizon just to make sure I didn't get any long distance or toll charges.

Been using about three weeks and am very happy.
posted by adampsyche at 4:22 PM on December 15, 2003

Depending on what you want a telephone for, cutting that copper might not be what you want. These are a few of the (fairly few) advantages of a landline over a cel -- if you care about none of these, you're probably OK to dump the service!

Higher availability under overload conditions -- It's possible to get a dial tone (though perhaps after many minutes' delay) even when hundreds of thousands of people are mobbing the lines. In a natural disaster situation, cell networks are unreachable but landlines are just slow.

Tolerance to blackout -- if your phone line is working, it's got enough power on it to run a phone. Admittedly, if there's juice in your cell phone's battery, this probably doesn't matter much.

Ostensible privacy -- there are some conversations I simply won't carry out if RF is involved. Call me paranoid.

Works with modems -- I don't use modems any more, because I have a pretty decent DSL hookup, but every so often they do come in handy. If you ever see a modem in your future, even if merely under extenuating circumstances, a cell phone won't cut it.

Free incoming calls -- You don't use up an allotment of any sort to answer the landline's ring. There are probably some cell service plans which offer this, but it's a default feature on your POTS line.

You get a phone book -- They don't send one if you don't have a phone.
posted by majick at 4:26 PM on December 15, 2003

Do you call 911 a lot? (If you do, you may have bigger problems than those discussed so far...) But 911 is a lot more hospitable to a land line than cell, at least that's the case in my neck of the woods. Something to check in your neck.
posted by sageleaf at 4:36 PM on December 15, 2003

Wow, can I just say that AskMeFi *rocks*? Thanks so much to everyone for thoughtful and helpful comments.

Since I don't have anything else in my setup that relies on a landline (TiVo is just a distant glimmer on my "maybe someday" wishlist, and RoadRunner, bless 'em, has been both rock-solid and speedy for me), I don't know that I'd have a lot to lose by cutting the phone cord. It's nice to think I have my dial-up modem as a last resort if/when the cable goes down, but then I live a ten-minute drive/twenty-minute walk from my office and the Ethernet connection to the university's servers. I do wish cellular coverage outside the metro and the interstate network was more thorough and reliable, but then I remind myself I've been OK for years tooling around the vast open spaces w/o any kind of phone back-up whatsoever, so ...

I think I'll be taking a deep breath and stepping forth into that Brave New Cellular future sometime soon. Thanks again, all!
posted by Kat Allison at 4:59 PM on December 15, 2003

I'm fully mobile. The only downside is that incoming calls aren't free. Land lines would have to drop to zero monthly charges before it would make up for their lack of functionality.

"You get a phone book -- They don't send one if you don't have a phone."

Get a phone that can browse the Internet. Google beats Yellow Pages.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:08 PM on December 15, 2003

One other disadvantage of cellphones: toll-free (800-number) calls aren't free. This can be a pain when you're spending 30-minutes on hold with an airline.

Therefore, I'd say it might be best to pony up a bit more cash for a regular - not prepaid - cell account (assuming that's an option). You'll have more minutes, so you won't have to worry about them running out, but, more importantly, you'll get free nights and weekends, so you can just do those long calls to tech support or your bank then and have them be entirely free.
posted by kickingtheground at 5:22 PM on December 15, 2003

Do you call 911 a lot?
About a month ago I called 911 from I-89 in New Hampshire and I had no problems.
posted by anathema at 6:46 PM on December 15, 2003

anathema: That's OK, upon re-reading it, I didn't write it very carefully either. :: smirk ::

kickingtheground: Some plans offer free 800 service.

Also, a general Tivo comment: While I don't have one myself, I hear there are hacks to add an Ethernet card and connect them to the Internet for program listings. So, if you're not landline-enhanced, but you have a cabal-modem (sic), you aren't necessarily SOL.
posted by tomierna at 7:12 PM on December 15, 2003

The new tivos (series2) have ethernet support built-in (you still need a usb adapter but it works out of the box.)

Also not mentioned: fax.

I've also noticed that cell fone providers are far more vigilant in 'cutting the cable' so to speak when there are past-due bills. I often forget to pay bills when I should and the cell goes out about a day after the due date while the landline operator is always more forgiving / less organized.

Lastly, it's really uncomfortable for me to use my cell phone for long conversations, so many of them are so tiny and sound so bad no matter the reception. "Real phones" are a bit more ergnomically sound I gather.
posted by neustile at 7:24 PM on December 15, 2003

I switched to cell phone only and DID have problems.

I moved to a new apartment, and I don't get coverage here. I'm in the middle of a highly populated area, but it's a virtual dead zone. There is one tiny corner of my apartment where I can stand next to the window and get crackly reception that drops unexpectedly. And I have another year left on my contract.

Kat, make sure, if you're going to get a cell, that you talk not only to your friends, but to your neighbors. Find out if THEY are happy with their plans, what plans those are, and what phones they've got. They are in the situation most like what you'll be in.

That said, I have Sprint, and they generally do have very good coverage, just not for me.
posted by Hildago at 7:54 PM on December 15, 2003

Lastly, it's really uncomfortable for me to use my cell phone for long conversations, so many of them are so tiny and sound so bad no matter the reception

Buy a decent hands-free.
posted by anathema at 8:39 PM on December 15, 2003

We just cut the cord two months ago. All has been fine, but I would recommend getting a longer-life battery than the standard issue one. We recently had a family emergency and had to make a lot of calls in one day--both phones ran outta juice.

Do you call 911 a lot?
Here in Austin, if you call 911 from a cell phone, they can use the signal to find you. Pretty nifty.
posted by whatnot at 8:45 PM on December 15, 2003

Newer cellphones have GPS tracking capability built in by law. Some models let you turn this off (I don't particularly want Sprint to know or sell my location data), but there's an exception for 911 calls and the location still comes through.
posted by Vidiot at 10:01 PM on December 15, 2003

i cut the cord a year ago this month. the only mistake i made was going pre-paid. the minutes are VERY expensive compared to plans. after a couple of months i ditched the prepay deal and got on a regular plan. verizon/america's choice and the phone works pretty near anywhere i take it.
posted by quonsar at 10:03 PM on December 15, 2003

i should expand on that a bit: the prepay plan was not only very expensive, the service was horrid. they claim roaming capabilities (at a REALLY expensive rate, so you'd think they be sure it worked) but my phone simply would not connect outside my local area (generally in and around town), even in areas well served by other compatibile digital or analog networks. i questioned customer service about this, and they admitted that it wasn't simply the regular network service on a prepay basis. and i quote the rep here: "I don't know why it doesn't work, but it doesn't. If you want regular service, you have to have a regular plan." in addition to this, i could not dial any number outside my area code from the directory. the system would insist, after a delay, that i redial the number. the customer service rep told me directly that "it's just the way it works. You have to dial it twice." i would avoid the prepay, at least verizons, at all costs. ymmv.
posted by quonsar at 10:14 PM on December 15, 2003

I've been landline-free for ~3 years now and ironically the only time I had a problem was when I was signing up for service with T-Mobile, which required a landline number to run its credit checks.
posted by gyc at 10:15 PM on December 15, 2003

One consideration: if you work from home - keep the landline. Businesses without a landline number always set off alarm bells.
posted by nthdegx at 11:15 PM on December 15, 2003

fax: t-mobile, as well as others i'm sure can handle fax via their voicemail system, this will then let you redirect the fax to a real fax machine at your office or wherever.

tivo: like they said, it can do a LAN connection

but, after 9-11 my cell phone was useless for about 2 days, so, something to think about. i would go with no landline except for that, instead i got some deal where i have only a certain number of calls, and all local. i dunno, it's probably not worth it.
posted by rhyax at 11:17 PM on December 15, 2003

Minor nit: new cellphones do not have GPS tracking by law (though a few have it as a feature); rather, the cellular network can triangulate your position based on the signal-strength to different towers. Completely different technology, similar effect.

If you're buying a cellphone with a new plan right now, there are some crazy rebates at Amazon at the moment.
posted by adamrice at 6:56 AM on December 16, 2003

First, on-topic -- I know many people who have done away with their land line and are now cell-only (we don't - see Fax issue, above). However, I'd strongly recommend that you get the cell phone first and then wait at least one month to move to cancel the land line service, unless you're very very sure that you have good reception on the cell at all times and at all places in your home.

One couple I know went land-line free, only to discover that there is really only one room in their house where they get any kind of decent signal. They've continued to do without the land-line, but its a pain.

I'd gladly go cell-only, but my TiVo needs the landline. Come to think of it, that's a pretty hefty subsidy for my TiVo use.

If you choose to subscribe to TiVo's 'home media option' and have a broadband internet connection, you can do away with the phone line. However, it might be a case of switching one bill (phone) for another (home media option).
posted by anastasiav at 7:46 AM on December 16, 2003

Oh, Kat, you may think "Oh, bah, I don't need texting and all that, because I have email!", but once you get a phone that has text messaging, you'll suddenly discover that the ability to receive two-sentence stories via your phone is a wonderful wonderful thing.

(not that my friends and I have a tendency to send each other hardcore text message
posted by Katemonkey at 2:51 PM on December 17, 2003

actually tivo can connect to a LAN without getting home media option, if you want home media option you have to have a LAN to use it though. but you're not paying for being able to connect via the internet, you're paying for being able to see pictures from your computer and crap like that
posted by rhyax at 10:46 PM on December 17, 2003

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