Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems. By routing phone calls over the Internet instead of aging and expensive copper wires, service providers have much less infrastructure to invest in which creates a cheaper solution that actually delivers a higher audio quality as well as advanced calling features.
VoIP is so successful that there are many within the industry questioning whether landlines serve a purpose anymore. Companies like AT&T (News - Alert) and Verizon are pushing to make VoIP the standard by 2020, but landlines still hold a number of advantages that could leave many stranded without phones if a shift were to occur. Many of these advantages are outlined by The New York Times' Jon Brodkin.
For example, VoIP is reliant upon high-speed Internet access. While broadband Internet is a staple in a majority of U.S. homes and businesses, this is not the case for everyone such as those in rural areas. In fact, delivering the infrastructure to support Internet in these areas could be extremely expensive – a cost that would be mitigated to the customers to pay up.
Furthermore, Internet access is also dependent on the electrical grid, and thus VoIP would be unavailable during a blackout. Traditional landlines can draw electricity from the copper wires and stay functioning, and often remain embedded in the ground during disasters.
VoIP is also a poor mix with emergencies due to the unreliability of e911 services. While landlines are immediately associated with an address in emergency dispatch centers, VoIP users have to separately register their address, and update it whenever they move.Ultimately, the FCC (News - Alert) is treading carefully and waiting to see what solutions the VoIP industry can come up with for these problems. Projects like powerful nationwide Wi-Fi Internet could do wonders for providing the infrastructure necessary for reliable VoIP phone systems, but that too bears an expensive price tag (News - Alert), and only time will tell.