Is Skype your new home phone?

  • Who uses a landline?
  • What do we use a landline for?
  • What alternatives can we use instead of a landline?

Working at Compare Broadband means that our staff have a fairly large sample of Australians and what their internet usage needs are every day. The recurring issue that comes up over and over is that of the home phone: most people are quick to declare that they simply don’t need one anymore.


There’s confusion in the Australian industry and community over exactly what the point of that home phone is, and how things like Naked Broadband and mobile broadband may be competitive against the idea of having to get a home phone and internet bundle.


A quick refresher: mobile broadband uses mobile phone towers to connect to the internet, meaning that it is entirely portable but may also suffer from poor reception, and is necessarily limited to small data amounts. Naked Broadband is an ADSL2+ connection with the home phone turned off, but it does not mean that you won’t be paying line rental, because your home phone and ADSL2+ connection come through exactly the same line - meaning that no matter what, you have to pay line rental; often it’s cheaper to get a home phone bundle, and just not use the home phone.


Click here for a more in-depth guide to how ADSL works, including information on Naked Broadband and phone lines. Or call us on 1300 106 571 and we can explain and help you find the best plan in your area!


However, this article isn’t about understanding the differences between the various connections - you can give us a call for that! Instead, we want to examine exactly what Australians are using instead of that once all important landline, and what some of the options for communication are out there.


Mobiles


The obvious answer is that with the rise of mobiles and big, big mobile plans, the need for a landline has decreased dramatically.


Mobiles hold a couple of points in their favour over the landline. First and foremost, their portability makes you instantly accessible wherever you are (as long as your mobile network holds strong). Secondly, many mobile providers now offer great plans that give you huge amounts of calls and texts for very little money per month, meaning that you don’t have to worry about paying for every single call, in the way you do on some landlines. Certainly if you have an unlimited call plan on your mobile phone, creating a call plan on your landline is both unnecessary and a waste of money. On top of this, too, mobiles these days are not just a phone: they’re also a camera, a computer, a GPS, and even a game console. Who needs a landline!

Unfortunately, mobiles are also frequently behind the biggest complaints to Australia’s Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO). Bill shock can come out of nowhere, and it can be a very upsetting and tumultuous experience, even if you don’t end up having to pay for it.


Click here to read more about bill shock and how to avoid it.


So while mobiles may be convenient, you do have to be wary of them, and that’s why many people don’t find themselves using them to make calls as much as they do for texting and - with the rise of smartphones - email, where a long call is not going to result in an equally long bill.


The Internet


At first glance, the internet may not seem like an adequate replacement for the phone. Certainly, five or six years ago it would not have been. However, now the internet is both accessible and adaptable, and there are new ways to use an online space in a communicative way that seems on a direct path to making landlines obsolete.


Broadly, the way the internet can be used fits into two new ways of communicating - copying and modifying the old school, or erasing the need for calling in the first place.

To deal with the latter first: think about how many times in the last year or two years that you’ve called someone to tell them that you’re late; that you’ve rung around your friends to invite them to a party; that you’ve called to confirm a meeting or job interview.


For the most part, for most people, we simply don’t use the phone for these quick information gathering purposes anymore. We rely instead on a host of alternative technologies: for quick check-ins with our friends, we send a text message; for invitations, we’ll rely on large social network sites like FaceBook, or send a group email; for official purposes, particularly career-related ones, we turn to other social network services like LinkedIn or, once again, email.


Particularly the rise of smartphones means that you don’t have to wait until you get home to be able to send an email; it’s simple and quick to send one off while you’re on a train, and for many people, particularly in the work environment, this form of communication is preferable to actually having to make a call. Email is a more distanced form of communication that allows us to pick over our word choices more carefully and make sure the message we’re crafting is the one we want to send; and text messaging is much the same. Whether you’re texting a friend or your boss, being able to use some form of written communication can relieve many people’s anxiety around making phone calls, whether that’s rooted in a habit of stuttering or an uncertainty around being able to control and lead the conversation.


Nevertheless, there are definitely times when all the SnapChatting, instant messaging, and emailing in the world won’t suit your purposes. More and more often, these times will rise when a long call needs to be made: either to speak to a loved one living far away to catch up on their life, or in a work sense for a phone conference with people scattered across the country or planet. Unless you’re on an unlimited mobile plan, the charges for these kinds of calls are going to be quite high, and when it’s going to be a lengthy chat, many people again will be hunting around for the trusty old landline and low charges that come with using it.


However, here, too, the internet is providing alternatives. The standout product in the last few years has been Skype: a program that allows you to do video and audio calls over the internet, whether on a 3G signal or connected to broadband internet. Skype is a free service to download and then call other Skype users with, with the option to pay to make (extremely cheaply priced) calls to landlines or mobile numbers, international or not, or to set up a “Skype number” which, in giving you an actual phone number, allows people to call you from mobiles or landlines.


Skype are quite cagey about their numbers, but as of 2012 they announced a total of 31 million users, with 560 million people who had used Skype at one point in their lives. Of these people, 8.1 million paid monthly to use Skype, and 35% of small businesses in the US and Canada used Skype as their primary communication method. There were 50 million Skype enabled televisions, 7 million iPhone Skype downloads in 2010, and 124 million monthly logins to Skype. In May 2011 Microsoft bought Skype for a massive $8.5 billion - but the average paying Skype user themselves paid only $96 a year.


Click here to read more about VoIP and how it can save you money.


And Skype isn’t alone in the field. Recently, a new competitor to Skype, Viber, has announced that it is shifting from mobiles-only to the desktop field. This means that it has moved into direct competition with Skype by not being a mobile exclusive, and now there are more options than ever before for the user who wishes to shun the home phone.


Viber offers some improvements on Skype - linking directly to a mobile number, it makes it easier to synch contacts, and it has cute little features like recognising what device you’re accessing Viber on and stopping the other device from beeping - but it is not yet at a stage where it can compete with the brand and user level of Skype.


Want more advice on how to use a home phone or home phone replacement with your internet and mobile plans? Give us a call on 1300 106 571 and we’ll be happy to talk you through your options!