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Will a Landline Work in a Power Outage? | What to Know

If you ask most people today what their primary phone is, you will most likely hear them say, “my cell or mobile.”  A recent U.S. Center for Disease Control National Health Information Survey (NHIS) indicated in the first 6 months of 2018, approximately 55.2% of adults in the United States lived in a household with only wireless telephones.  That is more than one-half of all households, and that number has been steadily increasing since 2016.

If the landline is not cordless, it will generally work during a power outage as long as the phone companies have conducted proper maintenance.

Landlines have dedicated copper wires that are usually buried deep between the phone company and your home.  Because the wires are buried, they are less likely to be damaged by hurricanes or other storms that cause power outages.  This means that if your power goes out, your landline will work when your cell phone does not.

Answering Land Line Phone

How Does a Landline Work?

Although it seems like most people are ditching their landline service, the NHIS survey also shows that approximately 42.8% of American households still use a landline phone as of December 2017.  But what about in the case of emergencies? 

Landlines use metal wire or fiber optic telephone lines for transmission. The copper wires buried underground are part of a telephone network that enables you to connect to anyone around the world.  The wires run from a box near the road to a box at your house, often called the entrance bridge. 

From the entrance bridge, a pair of copper wires is connected to the phone jacks in your house.  Each jack requires a separate pair of copper wires.  Along the road is a thick cable that contains over 100 more pairs of copper wires that run directly to the phone company’s switch in your area or to a box that acts as a digital concentrator.  A digital concentrator forwards data transmission signals.

What Keeps the Landline Working During a Power Outage?

Your phone will continue to get power through the lines that are connected to the phone company’s switch or digital concentrator.  The phone company has a backup generator and an extensive battery system that supplies power during outages.  Therefore, even if your power goes out, the landlines connected to the phone company through the metal wires keep your service active. 

Will a Cordless Landline Work During a Power Outage?

There are two types of landlines – corded and cordless.  A cordless landline will not work during a power outage because it requires electricity.  This landline has a portable handset and a base.  The base is attached to the phone jack in the wall. 

How Does the Cordless Landline Work?

The cordless telephone acts like a radio transmitter and receiver.  When your phone rings, the following steps occur.

  1. The base receives the incoming call as an electrical signal. 
  2. That signal is converted to an FM radio signal and broadcast to the handset. 
  3. The handset receives the signal and converts it to an electrical signal.
  4. The signal is sent to the speaker.
  5. The signal is converted into the sound that you hear.
  6. As you talk, the handset broadcasts your voice through a second FM signal back to the base.
  7. The base converts your voice signal to an electrical signal and sends it through the phone to the person on the other end.

The main reason cordless landlines will not work during power outages is that they need electricity to transfer the signal from the base to the handset.

Cell Phone versus Landline

There are some key benefits to having a landline phone in addition to your cell phone in emergency situations.

Landline Cell
  Natural Disaster Communication Copper wires carry minimum amounts of power to sustain phone lines.Blackouts can eliminate digital and wireless phone communication.
    Household Safety Hub State governments often use landlines to broadcast safety memos and information.   You may miss this information if your cell is not charged or there are problems with signals in the area.
  911 Service Landline phone signals are tied directly to your home address, making it easy to locate your home in an emergency. Cell service is dependent on location identification technology, which is not always accurate.
    Financial Benefits   Some internet and cable providers include the cost of a landline in with a bundle. This often results in minimal to no cost for the phone. It is rare that cell service is bundled. It usually carries a separate cost that can be quite expensive.  

Home Security and Landlines

Many home security systems provide the option of having a landline or cellular monitoring.  Cellular monitoring is increasingly popular because of the convenience of an entirely wireless system.  However, cellular systems consume more battery energy and are more likely to be disrupted during a power outage or cellular towers going down. 

Landline monitoring services have their own dedicated landline that can be used to alert emergency services if your alarm is triggered.  This process is much less likely to be interrupted by bad weather or power outages.  Many homes already have landline technology in place that can be used for monitoring systems.

Survival and Privacy

There are some organizations and businesses that maintain dedicated landlines for the purpose of survival and privacy.  For example, air traffic control towers have dedicated lines connected to hospitals, police departments, fire departments, and the military.  In an emergency, these lines can be used at any time.

Landlines are also considered more secure than cell phones when it comes to privacy.  In an episode of 60 minutes, a German computer scientist, Karsten Nohl, remotely tapped into U.S. Congressman Ted Lieu’s cell phone and listened to his conversation.  This was possible because of security bugs in the global telecommunications network known as Signaling System Number 7.  According to Nohl, this system will be used for the next 10 to 15 years until a replacement is implemented, and even then, the replacement will be vulnerable.

Six Interesting Facts About Landlines

  1. Although Alexander Graham Bell is generally given credit for the invention of the telephone, there are two people who achieved key breakthroughs in turning sound into electric signals.  They were German inventor Phillip Reis and Italian engineer Antonio Meucci, and their findings were from a decade before Bell.  In 2002, the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledged that Meucci’s work was so important it could have possibly kept Bell from getting a patent.
  2. Early in the 21st century, landline telephones reached their highest global subscribership.  Between 2000 and 2001, there were 57 fixed lines per 100 people. 
  3. It took over 90 years for landlines to reach 100 million consumers.  It took less than 17 years for cell phones to reach the same number of people.
  4. In 1956, the first transatlantic cable was run across the ocean floor and is as deep as 12,000 feet.  It runs across the Atlantic Ocean from Canada to Scotland.
  5. One of the first people to have a landline in his home was Mark Twain. 
  6. In the late 1940s, there were over 350,000 telephone operators working for AT&T.  98% of them were women.

The Future of Landlines

Although there are benefits to having a landline, phone companies would like to remove or limit them because the lines are expensive to maintain.  In the past few years, thirteen states have allowed phone companies to stop providing basic traditional phone services to consumers. 

AARP and other consumer groups are concerned about the elderly who do not own cell phones and live in remote areas.  If they cannot keep their landline, how will they communicate in an emergency?

Related Questions

Will cell towers work without power? Cell towers do not function without power, so while you may have smartphone functionality, in a power outage situation, cell phone service will not be available.

Can you use WIFI in a power outage? Internet connectivity requires that power is present to broadcast the signal to connected devices so it will not be usable during a power outage.

For more, don’t miss How to Run a Generator in the Rain (And Not Ruin It).