This Line May Be Disconnected: As wireless options increase, the mere existence of the home phone is threatened.

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Americans have become quite attached to their cell phones. So much so that nearly a third of all wireless users would choose to lose their home telephone before parting with their wireless one, according to a new study by Arlington, Virginia-based eBrain Market Research.

Forty-five percent of wireless consumers aged 18 to 34 are likely to consider dumping their landline. Moreover, 47 percent of those who own a PCS phone - the digital models with call waiting and caller ID - say they would prefer the freedom to roam than to stay at home. "To say that wireless phones are going to make home phones obsolete is far reaching," admits Tim McNamara, manager of communications for eBrain. "But these numbers say that it is not as far off as people think. That three in 10 people said they were more likely to give up their home phone than a cell phone was surprising, even to us."

According to the Personal Communications Industry Association, 94 million Americans now have a wireless phone. The amount of time they spend talking on all those mobile phones is increasing at a remarkable rate: The International Data Corporation says owners currently average 247 minutes per month on their wireless phones, compared with 155 minutes in 1999 and a mere 89 minutes in 1998.

Maybe it's the size that matters. Wireless phones have shrunk in size and weight, making them a viable primary communication tool. According to eBrain's survey, 71 percent of people say they tote their phone with them most or all of the time, compared with 59 percent in 1998. More phones, more minutes, more access - the changes add up to a cultural shift. "People get very attached to their wireless phones once they have them," McNamara says.

Despite the gains, wireless phones are still basically used as secondary lines, notes John Salak, editor-in-chief of tele.com. What holds most people back from becoming wholly wireless, he says, is the relatively high cost of service. According to eBrain, however, it's not just the dollars. By and large, rates have fallen, but in the last two years, the number of people who say they are satisfied with their wireless plans has dropped 22 percentage points, from 76 percent in 1998 to 54 percent in 2000.

Salak predicts that once e-mail, phone service, and an Internet connection are routinely routed through one source, people will be more likely to discard their landlines. Currently only one in 10 wireless phone owners have the capability to view e-mail on their phone, yet 38 percent of those polled by eBrain say they would like this feature.

How long before we get rid of our landlines completely? Salak predicts we're only a few years away. "As technology advances, you might really see a greater predominance [of people using wireless phones] as their primary phone," he says. "I'd say in three to four years." For now, we're still working on becoming a paperless society.

For more information on home phone abandonment, call Tim McNamara at eBrain Market Research at (703) 907-7033.

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