The Slow Death of the Telephone

The Slow Death of the Telephone

Few millennials have a landline at home. Soon they won't have one at work either if PwC are to be believed.

Like the other big accountancy firms, PwC have been in the news a lot recently over concerns about the impartiality of auditors. Last week, they made headlines for a different reason. They are going to stop issuing staff with desk phones. By the end of the summer they will have removed all landlines from the desks of their UK offices.

They already issue mobile phones to all their employees anyway, so the assumption is that day to day business won't be affected. It's a good one to make. Like many professional services firms, PwC staff are relatively mobile. They're out with clients regularly, they work from home a lot, and they hotdesk when they do come into the office. Anything which ties consultants, auditors and account managers to their desk reduces flexibility and productivity. This is certainly my experience at CRMT.

IT managers everywhere will be cheering the news. They don't rate as highly as printers in the list of IT pet hates, but telephone systems aren't far off. VOIP systems are complex beasts understood only by specialist technicians. They also significantly complicate network design, by mixing voice and data traffic over the same wires. Many SMBs have refused to adopt VOIP for this reason despite the obvious benefits. They will now use this case study as an argument to save costs and remove corporate desk phones completely, assuming mobile reception is good enough at their offices.

Microsoft have tried to disrupt this space with Skype, by replacing handsets with dial pads tied to laptops. They saw adoption, but ultimately it was an inferior experience for all involved compared to an actual handset. It is noticeable that phone use is declining in businesses. The newest players in the conference calling market either don't offer a phone dial-in option or only offer it as an upsell. This extends to webinars too, where BrightTalk and ON24 are seeing growth despite only supporting online audio.

The continued growth in video conferencing can be blamed in part for this. However, the simple truth is that mobile phones make desk phones irrelevant. Why bother calling a desk phone when there is a possibility that the person you're calling may not be at their desk. If you call their mobile you know you'll get through. The numbers support this. Accompanying the news was a startling statistic that the number of minutes spent by businesses over landlines has halved since 2010 in the UK. The drop in residential calls is even steeper.

This is a well documented social trend. Like many millennials, I don't have a home phone. In fact, I don't know anyone in my age group who uses a home phone. Some have them because they get one as part of a broadband package but I've never seen them used. It's inevitable that this trend was going to impact the workplace sooner or later.

Landlines aren't going to die completely. Not even PwC are getting rid of all them. Security teams, reception desks and conference rooms will continue to have handsets. Call centres and other specialist businesses will need VOIP systems for a long time to come. However, much like the home phone, the desk phone will no longer be an automatic expectation. A lot of knowledge workers will be upset by this; the rest weren't using it anyway.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.