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Should You Drop Your Traditional PSTN Landline?

Do VoIP Users Still Need Traditional PSTN?


The call
Amanda Tipton Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Does switching to VoIP necessarily mean eliminating your traditional PSTN (landline) phone service? Should you dump it or keep the line? The answer cannot be a clear yes or no, although it's already is so clear-cut for many people. It is sometimes wiser to keep a basic PSTN line just in case.

There are a number of factors you need to consider before cutting down the landline cord. The only reason you will want to stop your landline service if you are using VoIP is to stop paying monthly bills on it, but the following issues will make you give a second guess.

Power Outage

VoIP phones and other equipment (phone adapters, routers etc) need to be electrically powered, which makes it a big problem when power goes out. True some phones are equipped with batteries, but that cannot compare with a landline phone that has absolutely no dependency on the electricity supply in your house/office.

911 Emergency Service

Despite claims that 911 is well supported on VoIP, it is not always true. What happened in Alberta in early 2008, where a small boy died after his supposedly-life-serving ambulance was misled by wrong 911 addressing due to VoIP, has alarmed many concerning the 911 problem over VoIP. Normally, with traditional landline, a person's address is physically linked to their phone number. With VoIP, the number is linked to an IP address instead, which is by extension linked to a geographical address, and the latter can change any time. That's what happened in the Alberta case.

Besides, many VoIP service providers chose not to offer any support for 911. That changed only when the FCC ruled to make it compulsory over all providers to support e911. Still, whether it can be completely trusted is largely debatable.

What About DSL?

Many home Internet users can't have a DSL line if they don't already have a landline phone line. If that's your case, you then just can't do without a PSTN line. You can then simply have your PSTN line as a stand-by line and use it only whenever necessary, and pay only for the line rental. It works great if the line is billed per minute, without any package. If your ISP can offer DSL service without a phone service, you can ask the cost of keeping a side PSTN line.

VoIP May Even Need PSTN

True there is a tug of war between VoIP and PSTN companies, but in many cases, VoIP packages are offered only as a money-saving and feature-rich improvement over PSTN. Here, don't take 'over' simply as a comparative preposition - I mean the VoIP service depends on the landline phone connection. This is especially true for device-based services like ooma and MagicJack, where the PSTN phone line is plugged on one side of the device.

Call Quality

None of the existing VoIP services on the market can beat traditional PSTN phone on voice quality. They don't even come to the level. The reason is simply because VoIP channels its voice packets through the Internet, using a less-than-reliable protocol called UDP; while PSTN has a dedicated and therefore very reliable line for each conversation. Most VoIP solutions offer reasonably good quality, but problems like echo or dropped calls are not completely absent, even if rare. VoIP users often have to handle certain factors that affect voice call quality.
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