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Who needs a landline telephone? 95% of UK households don’t

Landline telephone - Main Pic

The home phone has had its day. The majority of UK households say they would not miss a landline telephone, preferring instead to use mobiles as their primary means of communication. The belief that a fixed line is essential is clearly an outdated idea. Landlines in business still have a place of course, and a physical line may be required for ADSL – but for actually making calls it’s certainly not something that will be missed.

A report from RootMetrics has found that 95% of those surveyed believed they would not struggle without a landline phone. Mobile Industry Review readers, as forward thinking professionals, are likely to be in the same category as the percentage of households without a landline steadily rises.

Who needs a landline telephone?

Landline telephones - landlines becoming endangered
Landlines in the US are an endangered species. UK households similarly are eschewing fixed lines.


Up until the early 90’s, nearly every household relied on a landline to make calls. Mobile phones were a relatively expensive luxury, and even those lucky enough to own one would still use a landline at home because it was cheaper. Mobiles were mainly attractive for people on the move, but have now become indispensable – the first thing you reach for to make and receive calls, send a text or browse the Internet.

Even though the landline phone is not quite dead yet, it’s been in decline for a few years. However, there is a generational divide between the young and old: 80% of people aged under 30 don’t have a home phone or hardly ever use one, according to Money Saving Expert. On the other hand, half of people over 60 still use their home phone for most calls. There seems to be something of an emotional attachment to landlines, or perhaps a resistance to new technology that may be perceived as expensive and difficult to use for the older generation.

Despite the fact that landline telephones are falling out of favour, especially with the young, just two years ago the percentage of UK households that had one remained fairly high at 88%. There are some advantages of course – voice quality on a landline may be better than on a mobile, and there are no issues with dropped calls or cell capacity. And for most businesses, a landline is still useful even though there are other options such as VOIP. But with monthly line charges increasing every year, perhaps it’s time to consider ditching the line altogether?

Landline telephones - percent in UK 1970 onwards
Since 2000, the percentage of UK households with a landline telephone has gradually shrank.


In 2009, BT tried to stem the tide of apathy towards landlines with an advertising campaign that claimed “If a conversation’s worth having, use your landline”. To be fair, there is a sense of stability and permanence a landline provides, but the convenience of a mobile far outweighs any sense of nostalgia and attachment towards the traditional phone. Unfortunately, a landline is often unavoidable if you subscribe to an ADSL broadband service, but there are alternatives – mobile broadband, cable or fibre for example.

Back in the 1980’s it was easier to remember phone numbers; with no built-in phonebooks, it was necessary to memorise numbers (or use a notepad kept by the telephone). But today, how many people even know their own family’s mobile numbers?

Personally, even while at university in the early 1990’s, very few students owned a mobile – to call home it was necessary to queue up at the phone booths on campus. During lectures everybody scribbled furiously in notepads, whereas today’s lecture halls are awash in a sea of laptop and mobile phones interrupting the proceedings…

I have not used a landline phone for at least 8 years, preferring a smartphone (and Skype) for calls and a decent fibre connection for Internet access. I don’t subscribe to a landline package, and never intend to. Recently inconvenienced with no Internet for two weeks, it was simple (and fast) enough to tether to my phone as a wireless hotspot. If there was no upper cap on my mobile network, I could imagine quite happily using mobile broadband for everything.

In developing countries, the picture is very different to the UK as landline phones are almost unheard of. Lacking the typical infrastructure associated with fixed lines, some nations have leapfrogged fixed line entirely and gone directly to 3G and 4G networks. But a survey by the Pew Research Centre in 2012 found that, of the Americans who didn’t own a mobile phone, the reason given was that they “didn’t need one” and were happy with a landline…

Landline telephones - main reason for not wanting mobile
In the U.S. some people still don’t feel they need a landline.


Mobile phones are used mostly while watching TV

The RootMetrics report asked “where do you tend to use your mobile for the longest periods of time?”, to which 55% of respondents answered mainly at home, 15% while travelling, 12% at work, 9% when going out, and 3% while in cafes, bars and restaurants.

The most popular places to use a mobile at home were:

  • Watching TV (42%)
  • In bed (13%)
  • When eating (6%)
  • In the bathroom (2%)

Furthermore, 51% of 18 to 24 year olds said their mobile had replaced the landline, which shrank to 17% of people who were aged 55 and over.

Landline telephones - girl using mobile watching TV

So despite enabling us to be mobile, the most common place to use mobile phones are at home while watching TV.

Despite being called ‘mobiles’ it’s telling that we are now using them most when we are at home as landlines become the exception rather than the rule. Our mobile phones have become the remote control for our lives, and we are using them for an ever-increasing range of tasks, from second screen viewing, to taking pictures, to doing our banking – Bill Moore, CEO and President of RootMetrics

Would you struggle without a landline telephone?

For anyone that lives in an area with decent network coverage and uses a smartphone every day, doing away with a landline is a viable option that shouldn’t cause too much inconvenience. If you choose a broadband provider that offers fibre or cable access (such as Virgin), then there’s really no reason to have a landline. And once you’ve cut the cord, there’s no turning back.

We’re always interested to hear our readers’ opinions, so let us know in the comments whether you’d struggle without a landline, or perhaps you’ve already gone mobile-only?

By Roland Banks

Roland Banks has been passionate about mobile technology for the past 20 years. He started his career at British Telecom's research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world's first mobile video services. More recently he enjoys writing about his obsession, and developing software that helps mobile operators analyse their subscriber data.

Roland has lived in Asia for the past 5 years, and tries to indulge his other passion for riding motorcycles whenever possible.

7 replies on “Who needs a landline telephone? 95% of UK households don’t”

There is a clear indication of growing demand of smartphones and phablets which act as a middle ground between landlines and portable computing. Indeed, the trend is telling us that landlines are getting towards “endangered species”

Unfortunately in the UK Virgin don’t cover nearly enough of the population for people to cut their landlines altogether (though VirginMedia is NOT really fibre, it’s fibre-to-the-cabinet and co-ax to the home, so even then it’s still a copper connection). The data part of this is DOCSIS 3 but though not a copper-pair, you’re not going to get fibre to the home by this route. Liberty’s purchase of Virgin, does mean they have more money to invest in more roll-outs and if Vodafone buys Liberty, they’ll certainly increase roll-out to get closer to more customers.

BT Infinity is also fibre-to-the-cabinet and then copper-pair to the home as are any other providers of ADSL/ADSL2+/VDSL/VDSL2+ (i.e. most of the providers in the UK).

There are a few fibre roll-outs to premises (oddly mainly in rural areas) and with these you’re genuinely can cut out the copper.

However if ISPs selling their own DSL service are still relying on Openreach to deliver the copper into people’s homes and until Ofcom allow complete unbundling (unlikely to happen) then providers will always be reliant on Openreach (which is still part of BT Group).

There may be a future with wireless, but it’s generally more expensive to provision than DSL services when always on and used for real broadband (rather than on your mobile).

Relish are offering WiMAX wireless broadband in central London, but coverage is limited.

I work for sky. When I sell or talk about phone 8 out of 10 customers say to me it’s only there for the broadband & may not even have a handset connected. So they’re paying for something they’ll never use. The operators are putting prices up on something that has been paid for 1000s of times over. And the higher the prices go during the next few years consumers will b forced towards a Mobile life. Fixed line providers are creating their own death.

Where I live is rural and I would estimate that over 50% are unable to get cellphone coverage. I have no coverage here at all – nothing. I have to travel nearly 2 miles to get a signal and yet I only live 5 miles from a major town. Our landline phone went down two days ago and we need to get it fixed as soon as possible. One member of the household has health issues and we normally have a number of hospital related calls.
It is FAR too early to discount the use of the landline and those who espouse this view obviously have no idea of the scale of rural problems with communication and are taking a presumptuous “shotgun” view in my opinion.
Rather like HMRC saying all tax returns will be via the Internet! Another silly view when it’s been estimated that some 20% of the population are not even connected . . .

No-one can seriously argue that landlines have a long-term future in the home, but there are still people in the short-term who need them.

I do think that ‘using a mobile while watching TV’ demographic is misleading in this context. I doubt most of that usage is phone calls, it’s a second screen device for many people. The interpretation of that data is wrong in my opinion, as the way mobiles are used are different to a landline

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