The Slow Death of the Telephone As You Know It

Reluctantly, I am being forced to contemplate the notion that the telephone, as I have always know it in my lifetime, is not just evolving, but it is becoming and endangered species. Look at these numbers just released by the FCC as of December 31, 2009:   

  • Overall, 47.9% of all telephone numbers were assigned to end users.
  • The overall utilization rate for Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) was 47.3%, down from 48.8 six months earlier.  
  • The overall utilization rate for Mobile Wireless carriers was 66.7%, up from 66.1% six months earlier.
  • The overall utilization rate for Competitive LECs was 34.0%, down from 34.3% sixmonths earlier.
  • Since wireless number portability began on November 24, 2003, wireline customers have moved over 85 million telephone numbers to new wireline carriers and wirelesscustomers moved more than 78 million telephone numbers to new wireless carriers.


For those of us who have worked our careers in telecommunications the advancement of technology has always been a welcomed process.  Like most of my colleagues, I love new features and functions that make communication better, easier and cheaper.  Evolution in communications has been a great thing.  I often talk about this evolution in presentations and when I teach.

Phone 1.0 was/is the stand alone telephone most of us have used, hanging on a wall or sitting on your desk.  It is made up of a dial, a hand set, and a wire connecting it to a telephone line.  Each phone has a specific number.  If I want to call you at work, I call your work number.  If I want to call you at home, I call your home number.  Forget mobility.

Phone 2.0 was the cell phone.  This technology took the telephone and evolved it to be connected to the network by radio.  Combine this with a network of radio towers and you now have wireless mobility.  Now I simply dial one number and your phone rings whether you are at home, at work, or in the car!  Everyone has one of these!

Phone 3.0 was the transformation of the phone into a piece of software.  The phone can now reside on a computer appliance or television appliance or even on an appliance that looks like a regular telephone.  This digitization of the telephone function when combined with packet transport as in the Internet Protocol, has revolutionized calling internationally and bred the Voice over IP revolution.  Skype is a great example of this evolutionary step. 

So far all these technologies are backwards compatible, and have not really affected the longevity – but rather simply extended the telephone function, broadening its application.  But here is the rub, once the calling device was transformed into software, a new definition of how to use the idea of calling someone took root. It is this next generation of Phone 3.0 that is beginning to look like something completely different, something that may obsolete Phone 1.0.

Let’s look at some of these emerging technologies and transformations:

Consider Google Voice: allows you to get a free phone number, that you can then hand out to everyone.  This phone number is for incoming calls and you can configure your voice account to then send your call to your cell number (great if you don’t want people to know your actual cell number), or your home or work, depending on where you are.  You can configure personalized voice messages for different groups/individuals.  If you don’t answer, Google Voice will take a voice mail, convert it to text, then email or SMS you or both!  It is the ultimate call messaging front end.  You can also use Google Voice to make calls out for very low rates, and it integrates with Google Talk on your PC.

Consider all the alternative Phone 3.x applications.  We will name just a few:

  • Magic Jack
  • Vonage
  • Skype
  • Google Talk
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • Ooma
  • and many more.

All these products require a broadband connection, but essentially route your phone calls over the IP network and off the Plain Old Telephone Service network.  Some are separate boxes, some have monthly fees, or per call fees.  Regardless of the various options, they all do the same thing: make you wonder why you have a regular telephone.

Consider Zingaya: Zingaya enables voice calls through any computer, right from a web page. No download or phone is required. Zingaya offers this seamless voice calling capability to website operators – whether it’s a huge e-commerce enterprise or your personal blog. Simply embed a “Call” button into your website. Visitors can click that button and the call is immediately forwarded to your land line, mobile phone, Skype account, or other computer. All you need is a website; all your visitors need is a browser and microphone. 

Consider lets your Twitter followers call your cell phone, land line, or Skype account (whichever you select) just by clicking a link that you Tweet to them.  For the person calling you: There’s nothing to download and no phone is required – they are talking to you through their browser.  For you: You specify who you want to call you – whether it’s one friend, or all of your followers. All contact details will be kept private, so you can use without giving your phone number or Skype ID away.

It is clear from these options that the plain old telephone is under attack, and has been for a long time.  As the younger generation, brought up with these options, faces their choice as to how to be reached, with their iPAD, Computer, or other computing device in hand, one has to wonder if they would ever select an appliance like a telephone.  If they don’t, then what is their need for the telephone service as us older generation folks know it?  The only real question, is how slow will the slow death of the Telephone as I know it be?

We welcome your thoughts.

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