By Shawn Cumberbatch
Reprinted from the Barbados Nation
In the Barbadian household the landline was once a precious thing. If you didn’t have one, getting a phone call at a neighbour’s house was the thing to do. In some districts this is still the case, largely because of economic reasons.
But in many instances the advent of the mobile phone, and access to the internet, has changed all of this. So much so that there are some Barbadians who do not have a landline service at home. They find it more convenient, even if not more affordable, to communicate via their cell phones.
And this communication often does not involve verbal conversations, but some form of messaging, such as WhatsApp. Then there is ability to communicate in real time via video services such as Skype. In short, you no longer need a physical landline to make a phone call.
That said, Barbadians of a certain age will still gravitate to the landline. This and the fact that landline services with a fixed monthly price are more affordable when compared to a mobile phone means that the landline will largely retain its popularity for some time yet.
The Fair Trading Commission (FTC) acknowledged and emphasised this much last week when it released its latest Price Cap Plan, which is a regime that governs the price that landline service provider Cable and Wireless (C&W) will be able to charge customers.
Since residential landline services especially are currently dominated by C&W, the FTC has found it prudent to ensure that the telecommunications provider’s dominant position in this section of the market does not negatively impact consumers.
At the same time, it has sought to ensure that the company’s financial viability is not compromised.
In 2010 Bloomberg Business listed landline telephones as one of 20 “dying technologies”.
“Except for businesses and octogenarians, landlines are essentially out. Eighty-five per cent of Americans now own a cell phone,” according to a recent Pew report. “And it’s as easy to video chat with someone in Kansas as it is to chat with someone in Ethiopia over Skype – for free. Still, cell coverage and good internet access aren’t universally available, and some holdouts want a home phone,” the report said.
In terms of the United Kingdom (UK), British entity Cable.co.uk spoke of research involving 4,000 respondents. It showed that 62 per cent of UK consumers under 45 years old are not using the landline they have at home.
“Brits aged between 16 and 25 use their landline the least with under half (43 per cent) making calls once a week or more and 27 per cent never using their landline.
Those aged 65 and over were identified as the most frequent landline users with nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) starting a conversation on their landline daily,” it said.
The experts are speaking of a world of convergence where you want a house phone number to give to the plumber, but private numbers for individual house members. It is a situation they say the mobile phone will dominate.
However, telecommunications experts believe that the greater change will be the convergence from voice to data. This is already visible in places like Barbados where the smart phone and its various communication capabilities dominate.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), reporting on a workshop which examined “the future of voice” said “despite the advanced, new services that are on offer via telecommunications, most people still use their phones simply to speak to someone at a distance.”
While noting that “in this sense, the future of voice is secure,” the ITU added that “big changes are occurring in the way phone conversations are transmitted.
“Now, as well as sending calls through a copper wire or radio waves, you can use the internet. Operators have been investing heavily in next-generation networks that are based on the internet protocol. These broadband ‘pipes’ allow massive flows of several kinds of data, among which voice over Internet protocol calls can also be carried.
And as long as you can find an internet connection, you can use your VoIP phone number anywhere. Mobile calls are possible too, through wireless systems for internet access,” it noted.
The ITU added that since such services made location, distance, or the length of a call irrelevant, the world was heading to a place where in the future phone calls could be “free” like e-mails are. This would be so “once you are connected to the web.”