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Alaskans cut the telephone cord: wireless, once the way of youth, has caught on in the business world.


A majority of Alaskans are figuratively "corded" to their wireless phones--can't let it go, connected via an invisible umbilical cord that keeps one ear to the phone and thumbs in continuous text mode. That virtual cord is severing the landline telephone at home, mirroring a growing national trend afoot in the home and at the office.


The Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics publishes a report, the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) that helps the public understand communication and demographic trends.

Startling results from a recent NHIS find that almost one of every six Americans have traded in their home hard-line phone for a wireless device that accompanies them wherever they go. More than one of every eight of us received most of our phone calls via wireless telephones, even if we had a phone at home. It's a surprising statistic given the nation's historic penchant for the home telephone--a longtime staple of American life.

Part of this change could be attributed to the behind-the-ball response of traditional carriers in providing the same features standard with wireless--standard caller ID, voicemail without additional charge and unlimited, long-distance packages. These are features that, while often available via the traditional carrier, are usually an extra cost. In contrast, most of these features come standard nowadays in the wireless arena. It will be interesting to monitor if, seeing their net customer decrease, the standard telephone carrier will rise to the occasion.

Seeing the opportunity to capture a rebound audience, cable television operators are aggressively jumping into the fold, pursuing the potential new revenue and customer base. Many cable operators now offer telephone service--either packaged with their traditional products, or even sold alone. This new telephone service offers many of the same sought-after attributes as part of their basic package. For example, a customer can even have their voicemail e-mailed to them.

Companies such as ACS offer almost-free Internet phone service with their go-Vocal package, even branded as long-distance "reinvented." The package features "virtually unlimited" long-distance minutes throughout the U.S. (including Alaska), along with Canada. Its "unlimited anytime minutes" are available for as low as $29.95 per month. Customers can get a second phone number. Plus, the package offers attractive international rates.

In the final six months of 2007, the NHIS found that 14.5 percent of all adults surveyed lived in households with only wireless telephone service. The percent of wireless-only households has steadily increased, according to NHIS. For the same period in 2006, only one in eight adults lived in wireless-only households. Two years prior in 2005, the rate was one in every 18 adults surveyed.


National surveyors are not the only parties cognizant of this swing in communications trend. The state's long-running providers are already responding to the trend, leading the pack to continue their viability in light of the increasingly gabby (and mobile) society.

"Many years ago, MTA anticipated competition in the local service area and diversified into a full suite of product lines, in order to thrive with competition. Since MTA offers wireless service, we are able to easily migrate our land-line customers to MTA's wireless packages," says MTA's Community Relations Specialist Kristy Thom-Bernier.

Similar foresight on behalf of Alaska providers anticipated the demand for mobility, especially as Alaskans, like all Americans, prefer to take their phones with them. In turn, traditional landline phones are pass for a growing number of users.

Wireless providers make owning a phone simple, easy and oh-so-mobile. A prime example of a traditional carrier that has ponied up to meet new demands, AT&T offers the Go Phone, which is a pay-as-you-go service. There is no minimum, monthly fee. The customer pays for the minutes used, period. There is also no long-term contract, a flexibility that is attractive to the new phone user. The product is also useful for those business people who are out of traditional service areas for long periods of time--making a long contract unattractive.

Another example, as highlighted above, is MTA's Call Nationwide and Unlimited Nationwide plans. They also offer unlimited text messaging for as little as $6.99 a month.


Other features that are increasing the popularity of wireless phones include the attributes of "smart phones," those devices that simultaneously provide a multitude of functions (email, telephone, Internet) for the user. They essentially allow a customer to take their office with them. Examples include MTA's Palm Treo 700 Smartphone, MTA's Kyocera Lingo M1000, AT&T's iPhone, among dozens of others.

For those people who cannot give up the tangible pleasure of a sizable phone--for whom the postage-stamp devices of today seem cumbersome--or who prefer the wide screen of their laptop to communicate, there are solutions. Most of these wireless phones can be tethered to a laptop for a small monthly fee, providing constant network connectivity wherever there is cell phone coverage using the speed of a 3G or EVDO network.

Finally, it is undeniable. Despite the potential for "cauliflower ear" and the inane craziness of seeing someone alone in a car on the freeway seemingly embroiled in an animated conversation with themselves (read, wireless headset), we are a generation who gives substantial stock to accessibility. For work, family and play, the benefit of being available 24/7 is a common stock in trade in our nation. Consider the value of being able to respond to a customer's request for price quote--all while you sip a latte at the local coffeehouse. The wireless dynamic has changed the way we do business, live and play. (Note that the lawyers are catching on, with some suggesting that all-night Blackberry access constitutes compensable time.)

Beyond the fun and commerce factor, wireless offers clear contribution to improved emergency service. The wireless device has moved society into a new realm of safety consciousness. From mountaineers calling for assistance from mountaintops, to the instant reporting of traffic accidents, and the call for a tow from a dark roadside: these scenarios show how versatile communications have become. Access is a staple of life at this point.


While on assignment in Washington state for a week--driving, flying and sampling the region's business hotels--I tried out the AT&T USBConnect 881. The device allowed me to connect to the company headquarters from almost anywhere I traveled. The diminutive USB device proved fast, easy to set up and provided reliable Internet service throughout my thousand-mile itinerary--including those last, few minutes on the airplane before I had to shut down. The USBConnect 881 communicates across AT&T's 3G BroadbandConnect and EDGE networks. Favorite and particularly valuable features include the unit's small size, ease of configuration, and compatibility with my existing Microsoft OS. With high upload and download speeds (500-800 kbps and up to 1.4 Mbps, respectively). The device offers a built-in antenna and uses handy status-indicator lights.

As discussed in a previous technology article, speeds will vary depending on location and proximity to the cellular tower.


Once, it seemed like it was just the kids who were willing to forego a "regular" phone for the slick, new wireless phones--a concept totally alien to those of us who still remember the dial-up, wall phone (or even the hand-crank phone, dare I suggest). Who would have ever thought, given America's penchant for chatting with a receiver to our ear, that one day we as customers would substitute a tiny, matchbox-sized device that chirps and plays musical ringtones instead of the nerve-jangling ringy-dingy of old. The landlines were the bedrock of communications, but that bedrock is fast being eroded.

While the NHIS shows increased demographic pull toward wireless, the trend not surprisingly remains strongest among 25- to 29-year-olds (who probably don't remember Lilly Tomlin's Ernestine the Operator and the old days of getting caught in the cord). Speaking of operators, when was the last time you talked to an operator? Perhaps another endangered species.
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Title Annotation:TECHNOLOGY
Comment:Alaskans cut the telephone cord: wireless, once the way of youth, has caught on in the business world.(TECHNOLOGY)
Author:Colby, Kent L.
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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