Like consumers, businesses are starting to cut their landlines too

With workforces becoming increasingly mobile, companies looking to trim costs are increasingly choosing to trim redundant fixed phone lines

Woman talking on the phone in a large industrial space

(Kelvin Murray/Getty)

You’d be pressed to find anyone under the age of 35 with a landline—now largely considered a relic of the last century—in their home. Taken together, less than 15% of Canadians exclusively use landlines. But while households are steadily going wireless, businesses are slow to untether from their fixed telephones.

“Part of it is straight comfort,” says Mark Goldberg, a telecom industry consultant and founder of Mark H. Goldberg & Associates. “There’s a mentality that I have a landline because I’ve always had a landline, and a lot of people know me by this number. Unless you started a new business in the last 10 years, you probably never thought of being mobile only.” But as Goldberg points out, keeping your old corded phone can be problematic as employees become more mobile — and therefore harder to reach at the office. Given that 80% of callers will not leave a voicemail if their call goes unanswered, it’s increasingly important that employees can take a call no matter where they’re working.

Despite the force of habit keeping desk phones intact, Goldberg predicts that businesses, like growing numbers of households, will eventually rely only on mobile and internet for their communications. Some industry experts predict that switch could happen in as little as five years. According to a report from telecommunications market research firm IDC, for example, 75% of workers in the United States will rely solely on mobile communications, whether cellular or internet-enabled, by 2020.

Already, companies are turning to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services for their telecommunications. WhatsApp, the internet-based calling and messaging service, now handles 100 million calls per day, and that’s just one year after introducing the voice calling feature. And early this year, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum announced that the Facebook-owned company would be expanding their application to serve businesses.

Aside from WhatsApp, there’s myriad VoIP software already enabling companies to step away from their desk phones. Many of them let employees port their landline numbers so they can login and access their business communications systems from anywhere. It’s a compelling feature given that retaining old landline numbers is one of the main reasons businesses avoid going fully mobile. “For small businesses in particular, Goldberg notes, “a tremendous amount of investment goes into making people aware of their phone number.”

It’s one of the reasons Rogers Communications (which owns Canadian Business) today announced Rogers Unison. The service, targeted at small business customers, lets companies cut ties with their desk phones while keeping features like auto attendant, phone number directories, and a feature that connects the caller to the next available employee if the first one isn’t available. “What effectively we’re doing is giving them the ability to do all of the stuff they would have done on those landlines, now on their mobile phones,” says Matthew Leppanen, director of product management at Rogers.

The company plans to roll out the service in several phases. Phase one, announced today, focuses on merging landline features into the company’s mobile plan, while phase two, slated to launch this fall, will use VoIP connections to link legacy landlines to computer or mobile device through the internet. “It made sense for us to start on the mobile integration and provide customers with that ability to completely cut the cord, because that’s where it’s all going.” says Leppanen.

One major benefit of abandoning the landline is the potential cost saving for small and medium-sized businesses. Rogers says that its new service could cut about 40% of telecommunications costs for companies, depending on the company’s phone plan. Research commissioned by Rogers found that, particularly for small businesses, the cost of telecommunications services was a major problem, with 55% of senior managers saying it was a challenge for their business; 37% named it as being their greatest challenge. (Meanwhile, medium and large business decision-makers put data security as their prime concern).

Chart showing survey results of top business challenges by business size. Telecom costs rank top for small businesses.

Leppanen also says that increasing mobility in communications means companies can save on rent costs, having less need to set up satellite offices as their business expands. “In order for companies to grow, they generally need a local presence, which traditionally meant they’d open up another brick and mortar location,” he says. “That’s really expensive. Now they can get a local presence with a Yellow Page listing of that number, and expand without taking on that incremental cost.”

Given that more than half of North American employees work remotely at least part of the week, both Leppanen and Goldberg both say that cutting landlines is something more and more companies are considering. “If you’re using both a mobile phone and a land phone for your business, then chances are you really could get by with just the mobile,” says Goldberg. “You’ll be more productive because your phone is always with you, not stuck at the office at the wrong location.”