Why cellphones won't replace landlines

One of the common arguments against running fiber to every home and business goes like this: "Once we all have a cellphone with data service, we won't even need a landline."

From a certain squinty distance, it sounds very reasonable, and some invalid data to support it usually goes like this: "And I know several people that don't even have a landline phone anymore."

Here are a couple of contrarian data points. While at the beach last week, in a flat area with few tall trees and in visual site of two cell towers, neither my phone nor my wife's phone worked reliably. And by that I mean you could not place a call consistently, if you did place a call it usually dropped in less than a minute, and you could not reliably retrieve voicemail. The landline phone became indispensable. And we had two different phones from two different manufacturers, so it was not just a device problem.

A more sobering example is the tragedy in London this morning. After the bomb blast, cellphone circuits became so jammed that the system essentially stopped functioning entirely.

All wireless communications suffer from the same unavoidable problem that gets down to basic physics, rather than system design--any wireless system uses a certain amount of bandwidth, and you can only spread that bandwidth among so many people. After that you run out. That limitation does not exist with fiber networks, as you can add more fiber as needed to provide nearly infinite (perceived) bandwidth.

Wireless vendors are always finding ways to squeeze a little more traffic onto a wireless network, and there are new systems like Ultra Wide Band (UWB) and frequency hopping that promise to improve bandwidth availability. But we are all going to want reliable communications, especially in emergencies, and that means we need both very capable wireless networks AND solid, high reliability fiber connections.

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