A landline is a physical connection between two telecommunications devices. The term is most frequently used to refer to a telephone, differentiating it from a wireless phone, which transmits a signal through a series of relay towers. Wireless phones have outstripped landlines in popularity in many nations, but there are some unique uses for a landline phone which will probably keep the technology from vanishing altogether.
The primary disadvantage of a landline phone is that it must be connected to physical wiring in order to work. The phone is plugged into a phone jack in the wall in order to connect with the larger system of cables and relays controlled by the telephone company. Signals sent to and from the phone are passed through these cables, although some phone companies also make use of relay towers to transmit data.
The fact that signals are transmitted through physical cabling also has the potential to make a landline more secure. Unless someone has access to the cables, and is able to pick out the signal from a unique phone, conversations and data sent over a landline will be private. The data can be further secured through encryption, as is the case with phones used by senior government officials and intelligence officers. Consumers may have noticed that credit card companies ask customers to call from a “home phone,” meaning a landline, in order to ensure that the data exchanged with the credit card company remains safe.
The signal on a landline also tends to be more clear than a wireless phone. In areas where wireless service is poor or nonexistent, many people prefer to use landline phones. In some countries, a landline is still considered the main phone line for a house or business, and people may exchange multiple phone numbers with each other to facilitate communication. People who experience patchy mobile service may tell people to call back “on a landline” to continue a conversation.
There are drawbacks to having a landline. The need to physically connect it to a cable makes it far less versatile than a mobile phone, for example. In addition, the wiring which connects landline phones must be installed and maintained. In some countries, poverty drives people to cannibalize phone lines for the valuable metals they contain, leading to increased expenses for telecommunications companies. For this reason, some of these companies have chosen to bulk up their wireless networks so that citizens can remain in communication with each other. In many parts of Africa, for example, no landline service is available due to the expense of physical wiring, but mobile phones are readily available.