The Death Of The Landline?By Alex Runner
“We are on the cusp of the latest developments in communication, so we’re actually getting rid of our landline, except for three lines that we’ll keep on temporarily for emergencies,” says Mark Newhouse, owner of the Rahway, N.J.-based jan/san distributor.
How can Laymen Global — and other distributors — abandon Alexander Graham Bell’s beloved invention? In this case, Newhouse has done it by employing a unique combination of WiFi and VoIP. WiFi is wireless technology that allows phone and laptop users to roam throughout a given area freely. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is software that enables users to leverage their Internet connection for telephone use, something that often eliminates long-distance charges.
By using the two relatively new technologies in tandem, Newhouse is doing three things: drastically reducing his telephone bill, unchaining his salespeople from their workstations, and also saving money that would otherwise be spent on laying cable for his company’s new building.
Not running cable will save Laymen Global $3,000, but the company will spend about that much on new equipment to run their VoIP phones, so it’s essentially a wash. The big financial advantage to going wireless comes from eliminating local and long-distance phone costs — an annual savings of about $4,600.
“As we talk right now, there is really no such thing as a WiFi/VoIP combination that is available from technology vendors,” says Newhouse. “I just happen to like technology. In the end, it’s a hobby that has the potential to save our company a lot of money and time.”
Any Life Left in the Line?
While Newhouse manages to retain a hobbyist’s enthusiasm for communication innovations, solutions like his WiFi/VoIP medley are core competencies for technology consultants. Steve Epner of BSW Consulting, St. Louis, is one consultant who is closely observing the landline’s alleged decline.
“The landscape is definitely changing, but I don’t think it’s likely that the landline will become extinct,” says Epner, who cites two concerns that he harbors for wireless applications:
“First, security is still less of an issue when you’re dealing with a landline. It’s still easier for other people to access someone else’s cell-phone conversation than it is to access a traditional phone line,” says Epner. “The second concern is simply interference, which is probably a bigger problem than security. When you’re directly connected by a landline, there’s still not as much interference.”
While security is another matter, Newhouse explains that the quality of wireless communication has advanced to the point that it stacks up quite well against landline audio quality.
“I did many hours of research before we took steps to move beyond traditional phone lines, and I can tell you that the quality of WiFi and VoIP has increased significantly in just the last couple of years,” he says. “It’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a landline and these cell phones that we’re using. We even called people and literally asked, ‘How does this connection sound? Can you tell what kind of phone we’re using?’ They repeatedly told us that the connection was crystal clear.”
Can Bluetooth Bite Back?
Along with advantages, new wireless technology also brings new security issues. Small-time hackers who break into cell phone and personal digital assistants (PDAs) that use Bluetooth — called “Bluejackers” — might not currently be a significant threat, but they could drive many companies back to the comfortable security of the landline, says Epner.
“In terms of security, there’s just no substitute for having a dedicated landline, because it’s still not as vulnerable as most wireless communication,” he says.
Security concerns will likely increase due to a growing trend in wireless communication: Bluetooth technology. According to the March 24 edition of The New York Times, Bluetooth was “initially developed as a way to create short-range cordless connections between devices, like a headset and a phone, or a printer and a computer.”
In the same way that businesses wirelessly connect computers to printers via Bluetooth, a company can also connect its internal telephone and PDA networks.
Already, jan/san distributors like Andrew Brahms, owner of Armchem International, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., use Bluetooth to talk on their cell phones hands free.
“Whenever I talk to clients or employees on my cell phone, I’m always hands free,” says Brahms. “That’s the beauty of Bluetooth technology, and it’s where the wireless trend is headed. If you’re fumbling with your cell phone, then you shouldn’t be driving or doing other things. Bluetooth is wireless communication that really allows you to multitask.”
Despite the encroachment of wireless security issues like Bluejacking, Epner does acknowledge that rapidly advancing communication technology has the potential to eventually leave the landline in the dust. “I’d never say never,” he says of the landline going the way of the typewriter and eight-track tapes.
“Everything is getting better all the time; in 1970, we were transmitting only 300 bits per second over a telephone line, and now we can transmit 1.5 million bits, so it’s possible that things will advance to the point that we’ll have to get rid of landlines altogether.”
A Device of Distraction?
As jan/san distributors grow in their wireless capabilities and rely less on the landline, they need to make sure that their employees are also being more productive, says Brahms.
“Salespeople shouldn’t be on their cell phone all day, and no matter how difficult it is for them to go without it, their cell phones should never ring or vibrate when they’re with a customer,” he says.
As a business owner, the proliferation of cell phones and other wireless devices makes Brahms even miss certain things about the landline.
“First, there was the routine of sitting down at a desk to make your sales calls and go through your list of clients,” he says. “Second, and more importantly, when you were out selling, you didn’t spend any time on the phone unless you had to get to a payphone to call in an order.”
Even though wireless communication use needs to be kept in check, Brahms acknowledges that the wireless revolution is bringing a lot of advantages for business — especially flexibility for internal operations.
Change Keeps Coming
Newhouse is already experiencing some of those internal advantages at Laymen Global by employing firmware — a type of Internet-based software that makes telephone upgrades for VoIP effortless.
“Firmware is software for your VoIP phone system that can change up to the minute, so if we want to add a new feature — something as simple as voicemail, for example — firmware just gives us an update. In the past, we would have to add a physical attachment if we wanted to add voicemail, and it would be expensive. Now, it’s just a matter of downloading that particular software off the Internet.”
In a February issue of Newsweek, Steven Levy explains the significance of wireless advantages on a broad scale, which could portend the end of the landline. Levy writes that the day is coming when “all those costly switching stations and all those miles of wire and fiber optic” will be “trumped by the ability to plug your telephone into the Internet, where your voice is as easily transmitted as e-mail.”
But while VoIP and WiFi are already realities for some companies, the landline looks like it will stick around — at least for a little while longer.
“I have a hard time believing that many companies will do away with landlines for their 800 numbers and their fax numbers anytime soon,” says Brahms.
On the other hand, there are true believers in the wireless revolution. “I definitely think that the landline will disappear,” says Newhouse. “As long as you have a very high bandwidth, then you can handle hundreds of calls using VoIP. We’re looking to get a full seven-meg bandwidth, so I’m predicting that we’ll be fine.”
CRI Unveils New Website
The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) has launched its newly redesigned and updated website in hopes of becoming a “more valuable and meaningful resource” to the trade association’s members.
The website provides professionals in the cleaning industry with a user-friendly format that will attempt to serve the many owners and cleaners of soft-floor coverings. It’s billed as being a “one-stop destination for information about carpet and rugs.”
Ashkin Group Launches Website
The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind., has launched a free monthly newsletter, DesinationGreen, and a website to “accelerate the adoption of green cleaning products and services.” The newsletter is designed to reach several markets, including building owners, architects, health-care executives and cleaning professionals.
The website will also provide numerous green resources, including a poll that will allow users to express their opinions on a variety of jan/san and green-related topics. In addition, a “green-cleaning success story” will be a regular feature.
A Wealth of Jan/San Industry Information
Can’t wait for your new issue of Sanitary Maintenance magazine? Brush up on your sanitary-supply know-how by perusing our archived issues at CLEANLINK. Every month, you can also read the latest issue of SM online — packed with news and commentary.