VoIP vs Landline Phones: Everything You Need to Know

Marcela Otero
May 15, 2017

How does a Landline work?

Landlines work via circuit switching. Whenever a call is placed, your telephone carrier routes it through a switch to the number you’re calling. A connection is made between both parties through several switches along the way. When the phone is answered at the other end of the call, the connection opens the circuit.

Up until the 1960s or so, every phone call had to have a dedicated wire stretching from one end of the call to the other, for its duration. Long-distance telephony meant that there were switches from point A to point B, connecting pieces of copper wire all across the distance between them.

Today, landline telephony is much more efficient and cost-effective. The voice soundwaves of the person making the call are digitized, and sent through fiber-optic cables for much of their journey, although there’s still copper wire going into direct phone lines.

How does a VoIP work?

Voice over internet protocol telephony (VoIP) encodes the analog signals of a caller’s voice into digital form, then transmits them over the internet. On the receiving end, the encoded signal is decoded for the recipient to hear the sender’s voice.

Instead of traditional circuit switching, VoIP uses the internet’s packet-switching capacity to provide phone service more effectively. It surmises that during any given phone call, when one person is talking, the other one is listening, which means that the data file carrying the digitized sound waves can be cut in half. If the dead air segments of conversations are then also edited out, this cuts down file size even more. Data networks operate by only transmitting the packets of noisy bytes, opening brief connections instead of maintaining the steady open connection of circuit switching. This offers the additional advantage of allowing a network to route data packets along the least congested and cheapest lines.

Which direction is the industry heading in?

The telecommunications industry is quickly moving head-first into increased mobile connectivity, which is far outpacing fixed line connectivity, even in the developing world. Consumers and businesses are becoming increasingly more demanding in their expectation for always-on service everywhere and anywhere, with special focus on vertically integrated technologies. VoIP is just one other ingredient in this heady mix, but a key one. Indeed, traditional telephony is headed towards making the switch towards increased digitization and cloud technology in their own networks and protocols. In so doing, telephone networks immediately gain the ability to communicate just as computers do.

Another area of potential growth is in the Internet of Things (IoT), which promises to deliver content to any screen, including wearables, connected cars, as well as smart homes, businesses, and cities.

Landlines Pros and Cons

PROS

Better 911 response - When you call emergency services from a landline, the address appears automatically on the dispatcher’s screen. From a VoIP or a mobile phone, the dispatcher may not necessarily get the precise coordinates, instead rerouting the call to a local dispatcher, wasting valuable time.

Backup during natural disasters - Landlines are better emergency backup communication systems, as they still work during power outages.

Reliability and Sound Quality - Since VoIP works over your internet connection, the sound quality and reliability corresponds to the connection.

Security - It’s much easier for hackers to gain access through VoIP or mobile phones than through landlines.

CONS

Cost - VoIP telephony can offer much more competitive pricing than traditional landlines.

Sales calls - Landlines are particularly susceptible to being conduits for spam, resulting in deluges of sales calls by telemarketers.

Telephony, internet and cable packages - Often, these services are bundled together by companies, which may make dropping your landline less cost-effective than it could be.

VoIP Pros and Cons

PROS

Inexpensive and user-friendly - VoIP services are generally much less expensive than traditional landlines, depending on the service provider and on your existing telephony plan.

Increased portability - VoIP phone calls can be made from any place with good internet access.

Additional features - VoIP can provide call routing, automated attendants, call recording, and filtering, as well as conference call bridges— completely replacing the need for an operator. It can also integrate with other, cloud-based software to increase collaboration and efficiency.

High collaboration - It’s quite usual for VoIP services to provide high levels of integration across different platforms, permitting video transmission as well as voice communication.

CONS

Sound quality and reliability - With sufficient bandwidth and good equipment, poor sound quality and reliability aren’t as much of an issue, but the fact of the matter is that VoIP relies on your internet. Any latency or jitter can cause transmission errors.

Susceptibility - Though quite rare, VoIP can be more prone to hacking, viruses, or worms.

Reliance on computers - Depending on the processing power of your computer, VoIP calls can be affected by a power drain, if you attempt to access other programs while making a call.

Compatibility - Some VoIP systems are proprietary in nature, and will only allow calls to others using the same software.

Costs of Landline vs VoIP


CompareVoIP
Landline
Residential cost
$5-$20/mo
$30-$50/mo
Business Cost
$20-$35/user
$30-$60/user
911 accessIncluded, via E911Included
411 directory assistance
Varies by provider
$0.99-$1.79/call, human operator
Security
As secure as web connection
Very secure
Domestic long-distance calls
Included
Additional cost per minute
International calls
Very inexpensive, as low as $0.02/per minute
Expensive per minute charge
Equipment
Can use existing landline phone, with ATA. Business phones a bit pricey.
Generally inexpensive phones
Fax options
Paperless, high-quality
Paper faxes, lower quality
Electric DependencyRelies on power grid
Independent of power grid
Voicemail
Accessible online and remotely
Available for an additional fee
Alarm Security
Not always compatible
Compatible
Dropped Calls/reliability
Occasional lag or jitters, depending on internet service and network traffic
Calls rarely drop
Type of Quality
Digital
Analog
Video Options
Available, depending on equipment
Not available
Inter-connectivity
Can synch with other software, depending on provider
Not integrated

When is a landline preferable?

If you have small children or somebody prone to emergencies in your household or business, keeping a landline can be in your best interest. Though the advent of E911 means this is slowly changing, emergency services and 911 help is still more reliable via traditional landlines. Their dependability is also a factor, since they have fewer dropped calls, and sound quality is generally more consistent. However, the integration factor and variety of landline carriers leave much to be desired, and can severely limit your options when there are business considerations to take into account.

When is a VoIP preferable?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony offers many advantages over traditional landlines. In the first place, the cost is considerably lower, and there are many more carriers to choose from and comparison shop. Business VoIP users can increase their company’s customer base, since this type of telephony enables employees to be in different locations and time zones. Frequent travelers also benefit, as VoIP allows them to make calls wherever there’s broadband connectivity.

Additionally, there are a whole host of other VoIP features, such as increased integration with other software and devices, call-filtering options that eliminate the need for a receptionist, and enhanced functionality. Conferencing is simplified through VoiP, with the inclusion of video calls that traditional landlines cannot offer.

If any of these features sound like something you maybe interested in, start by checking out the companies in our top ten best business phone systems of the year

Cover image: Roland Taglao