Unified communication

Can Texting Give New Life to Landlines?

Frontier Communications has equipped all of the landline phone numbers across its territory -- which includes primarily rural portions of 27 US states -- to be able to receive and send text messages via an app that works on laptops, desktops, smartphones, and tablets.

The obvious question is whether it's too little, too late for the anachronistic landline in an increasingly mobile world.

Both Frontier Communications Corp. (NYSE: FTR) and Zipwhip , which developed the service, argue that it's not -- chiefly because of the popularity of mobility and consumers' propensity to communicate via text. Existing landline and toll-free numbers are part of the identity of businesses, they say, and adding the ability to send and receive text messages makes them more valuable for functions such as taking orders, scheduling appointments and communicating with customers.

"The value of the landline is still very high, especially for businesses," says Rod Imbriani, vice president of product for Frontier. "They're advertising that landline number, and it's still very prominent. This is an extension of that number for the way their customers want to communicate."

Businesses don't have to buy any new hardware or change anything about the configuration of their phone systems to use Frontier's service -- they just sign up and download the Zipwhip app to send and reply to messages from any connected device. Messages are routed through the Zipwhip cloud and pushed to the device.

The service is priced as an add-on to business voice and data bundles: an additional $4.99 per month for 250 texts, and $19.99 per month for unlimited texting. There is also an enterprise-level package for $99.99 per month that adds features such as unlimited autoreply, group texting and scheduled texting.

To enable the service, Zipwhip entered all of Frontier's landline numbers into the routing tables of the core short messaging service (SMS) infrastructure in the US, so that every wireless operator now has Frontier's numbers in its database, says John Lauer, CEO of Zipwhip -- a step that, he says, revealed consumers' eagerness to use text messaging.

"In leading up to this launch we had to turn up all the Frontier numbers for text capability," Lauer says. "Since then we've seen thousands of texts going into black holes because people were already trying to text the landlines, even before the service was available."

John Arkontaky, research analyst for The Nemertes Research Group Inc. , says the ability to text could indeed give some new legs to landlines, especially for a service provider with Frontier's landline-heavy service portfolio.

"It is an interesting thing for the times. It's not inaccurate that things are shifting to mobile, but in the meantime a lot of companies have complex phone systems already hooked up," he says. "Within Frontier's kind of structure, I do think it could give landline some life and offer some cost-effectiveness, especially for customer service types of situations."

Another mobile industry observer is not so bullish.

"This is a cool technology chasing a dying market," says Bob Egan, CEO of the Sepharim Group, a mobile industry research and consulting firm. "The number of landlines continues to collapse, even in the business area, as more and more people are using wireless."

— Jason Meyers, Utility Communications Editor, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner 7/1/2014 | 4:31:02 PM
Personal experience I have personal experience to bring to bear on this discussion: Our favorite local pizza place, which we discovered a year or so ago, takes text message orders. 

At first I thought that was great, because I hate phoning in take-out or delivery orders, particularly because we tend to offer off-menu, which makes things complicated. 

In practice what I found is that my text would go unanswered. I didn't want to be That Guy so I'd wait ... and wait ... and wait ... and eventually call and the guy who answered the phone would say, oh, right, sorry, the calls were coming in so fast we weren't watching the incoming texts. 

This happened about half the time. 

Finally, the guy answering the phone said, look, it's really better if you just call the order in. Texting doesn't really work. 

This in spite of the fact that the pizza place advertises prominently that it accepts orders by text. 

The lesson for Light Reading readers' customers: It's not enough to have the technology to do business using text messages. Companies also need to have business processes in place to acknowledge and respond to text messages. 
Kelseyklev 7/1/2014 | 4:10:06 PM
Re: Makes sense, suprised it isn't already availalbe I respectfully disagree Gabriel. Text messaging numbers are still rising, especially if you consider that the averge consumer considers iMessages basic old text messaging, which I think they do. Most iPhone users don't know iMessages are going through IP. They just consider it texting in a traditional sense.

As mentioned in the article, this service is indeed cloud, available across devices.
mendyk 7/1/2014 | 3:34:26 PM
Re: SMS SOS Agreed. Wireline will be around for a few decades, but the idea that it will be rejuvenated by something like texting is more than a stretch.
brookseven 7/1/2014 | 2:54:00 PM
Re: SMS SOS Dennis,

Maybe 2 questions....Residential and Commerical.  Nobody uses 8x8 or RingCentral for home service.  How much longer there will be wireline business systems is a good question.  On the residential side, it will be generational.


WDudley 7/1/2014 | 1:50:28 PM
Re: SMS SOS Excellent overview of this new service. 

Enabling "landlines" (or non-text-enabled phone numbers) for texting is a good thing.  Whether or not it remains "SMS" enabled or simply "messaging" enabled is not the point, but the point is that people can text to the number and someone on the other side will read it and potentially respond.

That's good for business, especially those with vanity numbers (either toll-free or non-toll-free).  There's brand equity in those numbers and if by text enabling them, they offer new ways in which their customers can reach them.

Even for long-time residential numbers, the ability to text-enable them offers new incentives to the users to keep them -- maybe as a household number where members of the household can use to text.

Texting as a medium is still evolving -- whether it's SMS based or cloud-based. Consumers really shouldn't have to try to differentiate.  Phone numbers, as identifiers or "addresses", are not going away any time soon; neither is texting.  So expanding the universe of addresses available as texting destinations is a good thing.

I for one, look forward to a time when I can call or text virtually any phone number.
Gabriel Brown 7/1/2014 | 12:19:02 PM
Re: Makes sense, suprised it isn't already availalbe People occasionally text our landline number at home by mistake. The phone service then rings up and reads out what it thinks the text says in a computer voice. If we don't answer, it leaves voicemail. The problem is that it is nearly always non-sensical and, obviously, we can't text back.

Anyway, SMS is out-moded on mobile now. It's all about "cloud messaging" over IP which works across devices and networks.
Kelseyklev 7/1/2014 | 12:00:57 PM
Re: SMS SOS That's simply not true. The cost of texting in other countries is the main reason WhatsApp just sold for billions.
Kelseyklev 7/1/2014 | 11:57:30 AM
Re: SMS SOS Not if it's advertised by the business that you can call or text the number. At that point, the customer knows that their text will be answered. It would be a different story if the customer just texted in randomly. 

Kelseyklev 7/1/2014 | 11:55:19 AM
Makes sense, suprised it isn't already availalbe This makes sense. Why not be able to call or text any number? It doesn't matter whether or not the total number of landlines is declining, because most businesses I know of have a number and they're not going to get rid of it. The interface looks pretty simple too. 
mendyk 7/1/2014 | 11:25:17 AM
Re: SMS SOS Maybe this should be the basis of a flash poll -- Where will the landline business be five years from now?
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