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Landline Telephony Has Role in Post-Pandemic Home, Says Parks

COVID-19 led to renewed validation of legacy telephony technologies as voice calls “address the universal need for communication and social connection, providing a lifeline for everyday life, work, and relationships,” said a Tuesday Parks Associates white paper.

The combination of shelter-in-place, work-from-home, school-from-home and other home-based lifestyles during the pandemic has driven “dramatic upticks in voice calling in all its forms,” according to telecom providers, said Parks. Some trends are temporary and others may signal lasting change, the researcher said. During a time of limited physical presence, households find voice calls address the “universal need for communication and social connection, providing a lifeline for everyday life, work, and relationships.”

In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, Comcast reported voice and video calls more than tripled; AT&T’s weekday traffic rose about 30%. Verizon saw a 22% traffic increase in its wireless and fiber broadband services while Wi-Fi calls doubled in volume, said the report.

In the U.S., there are almost 16 million mobile-only households, whose only broadband access to the internet is through a mobile data plan, said Parks. Mobile-only homes are most popular among young adults and renters. In North America, the U.K. and the EU, the number of fixed-line connections has been decreasing for years due to shifts to mobile and VoIP calling. Still, for the elderly, rural residents and lower income households, the fixed-line is often a lifeline for social connection and access to services including healthcare and emergency responders.

The COVID-19 crisis underscored the critical value of traditional landlines even as alternative modes of calling thrived, said Parks. Many people still turn to a landline for important calls, it said, saying some 40-60% of North American and EU households still use a landline due to familiarity, affordability and reliability. Mobile phones “can struggle for connectivity inside certain home designs and building materials while fixed-lines provide reliable service,” it said: Spotty Wi-Fi coverage, meanwhile, can challenge VoIP calls.

Fixed-line calling consistently delivers clear sound quality without distortion or disturbance, Parks noted, and rarely suffers from service disruptions or dropped calls that are common with mobile and VoIP services. During the pandemic, landlines have provided relief to overburdened mobile and broadband networks, and in the home, they don’t compete for bandwidth, which can disrupt the quality of VoIP calls on a broadband voice service. Life-critical emergency services, healthcare, remote patient monitoring and home security are largely designed for fixed-line telecom, which delivers reliable user experiences in sound quality, along with freedom from buffering and service interruptions, it said.

The COVID-19 crisis has had lasting effects on the future of home telephony, said Parks. Landlines will continue a migration to support VoIP calls, which in some households could be to retain landlines as a reliable backup when networks are overburdened, in the way people buy generators for electrical backup. The future of fixed-line telephony enabled by IP technology will include features such as simultaneous ringing on mobile and landline phones, simpler call diversion from fixed office lines to mobile or residential landlines, landline numbers used for mobile calling, enhanced call filters to block unwanted advertising and anonymous calls, and the ability to run multiple phone lines across a single broadband link, it said.

As work-from-home trends expand in the hybrid workspace, telephony solutions that deliver high-quality, reliable voice calling will be increasingly in demand, Parks said. Service providers and regulators “will be wise to consider how fixed-line calling (traditional and VoIP) continues to figure significantly in long-term network strategy and how new service bundles might serve the emerging work-from-home and eldercare markets.”

From the article "Landline Telephony Has Role in Post-Pandemic Home, Says Parks" by Rebecca Day.

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