More U.S. Households Are Now Wireless-Only than Landline-Only

Published November 1, 2007

Wireless devices have surpassed landline phones as the favored voice calling system in the United States.

Surveys of U.S. users conducted earlier this year by Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI) reveal what the New York analysis house calls a “milestone” in telecom history. The percentage of Americans in cell phone-only households now exceeds the landline-only counterparts, according to the recently issued, seven-page white paper, “The Birth of a Cellular Nation.”

Cell Phone-Only Rises

Based on survey responses between September 2006 and April 2007, Mediamark says cell phone-only households now represent 14 percent of the population, while landline-only households dropped to 12.3 percent. In a March 2006-October 2006 survey, wireless-only and landline-only households were pegged at 12.4 and 14.5 percent, respectively.

“This milestone is a consequence of two trends–a steepening decline since 2000 in the percentage of households with any landline, accompanied by a rapid rise in the number of households with at least one cell phone,” said report author Andrew Arthur, vice president of MRI’s Market Solutions division.

Arthur points out the MRI data show 84.5 percent of Americans now have landlines in their households while 86.2 percent have at least one cell phone.

The landline-only population had been larger than the wireless-only population since MRI first started measuring such use in 2000. MRI conducts about 26,000 in-home, in-person interviews annually with U.S. adults in two 13,000-person “waves.”

Policy Issues Loom

Industry observers suggest the phenomenal popularity of cell phones and a wide variety of rapidly emerging and improving portable wireless devices for voice, e-mail, instant messaging, Web browsing, music, video viewing, and miscellaneous downloads exceeds almost all industry expectations for the consumer market as envisioned many years ago.


The reversal of wireless and landline fortunes–which by most accounts is expected to continue–has implications for policymakers assessing subsidy programs and broadband deployment that may pit cellular and landline interests against each other.

MRI’s survey shows young consumers, particular those who live on their own, dominate the growing population of untethered phone users and are the logical targets for new devices, applications, and services.

‘Wireless-Only’ Lifestyle

“Logic would suggest that single-person households have less need for a landline, and, of course, fewer income earners to pay for one,” remarks Arthur. “The economic and practical realities faced by people living alone tend to force a choice between the two technologies, and the numbers are particularly striking at the young end of the spectrum.”

According to Arthur’s work, 32.3 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are wireless-only users, as are 27 percent of individuals who are single and never married. The study found singles ages 18 to 24 who live alone are more than four times as likely to be wireless-only as older adults.

The MRI report notes the sustained rapid decrease in the landline-only population has been significant given that landlines are considered a fixture presumed to be used by the entire household whereas cell phones are regarded as personal devices.

Trend Likely to Continue

According to the MRI report, many users haven’t abandoned landline phones altogether but have moved into a group that uses both landlines and cell phones. The data indicate in the past six years the mainstream population has stopped using landlines exclusively, mostly by adding cell phones while keeping their existing landlines. This dual-use group has grown and now represents about 19.9 percent of the population.

MRI notes the size of the dual-use group may be unsustainable. “The segment will be subject, naturally, to a sort of ‘gravity’ related to income and spending: Why pay for two devices that perform the same function?

“The usual justification for landlines, such as voice quality and reliability, may prove most attractive to those with higher levels of disposable income,” the report continues. “Moving forward, the lowest income tier … accustomed to cell phones are the most likely to drop their landlines in order to make ends meet.”

Frank Barbetta ([email protected]) writes from Little Falls, New Jersey.

For more information …

“The Birth of a Cellular Nation,” issued by Mediamark Research Inc., is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #22130.