Can Texting Give New Life to Landlines?

Jason Meyers
News Analysis
Jason Meyers, Executive Editor
7/1/2014



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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