U.S. mobile users ditching landline service

More than one-quarter of mobile-phone users in the U.S. have effectively stopped using their fixed-line phones for voice calls, according to a survey by research company J.D. Power and Associates.

The online survey of more than 20,000 consumers found that 27 per cent have replaced their landlines with cell phones for most purposes and that 61 per cent of those people have canceled landline service altogether.

The remainder have kept their landlines mostly for fax machines, home security services or emergency calls, said Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power. The trend was strongest among those aged 18 to 24, where 29 per cent have largely shifted to mobile , but some older consumers are following suit. Among those 65 or older, 9 per cent have made the change.

The survey, conducted between February and June of this year, represents the first time J.D. Power has asked about landline displacement in its biannual survey of customer satisfaction with mobile service. But it’s a growing trend that in part has led carriers to look for ways to hold on to their customers, such as bundling wireless with offerings such as VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) , broadband data and TV.

Also in the survey, Verizon Wireless expanded its leadership in wireless satisfaction, with its ratings now on top in five out of six regions of the U.S. It took the lead in the Southeast with an overall customer satisfaction rating of 718 points out of 1,000, its highest in any region. J.D. Power doesn’t release results for the entire country because not all the carriers operate in every region, Parsons said.

The only region where Verizon didn’t lead was in the Southwest, where respondents with T-Mobile USA service reported the highest satisfaction and Verizon came in second place. That region is made up of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. In other regions, T-Mobile, AT&T Mobility, U.S. Cellular, Qwest and Alltel (which Verizon agreed to acquire in June) came in behind Verizon in various orders.

Sprint Nextel came in last in all six regions but is making progress, Parsons said. Its lowest rating was 612 points in the Northeast. After lagging behind gains in the industry, in this survey Sprint kept pace with consumers’ average increase in satisfaction, which was 3 points out of 1,000, he said.

“They’ve matched the curve this time, and I think they’re going to start to improve,” Parsons said. Sprint’s weakest point has been customer service, while its coverage has been well-rated, he said.

The survey asks consumers to rate their mobile operators for call quality, brand image, cost of service, service plan options, billing and customer service, with the most weight given to call quality.

Industrywide, customer satisfaction with call quality has made significant strides over the past two years, Parsons said. Call quality earned a mean score of 7.26 out of 10 in the most recent survey, up from 7.18 in the same period of 2006. Over the same stretch, the mean score for overall satisfaction with mobile service actually went down, but not significantly, he said.

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