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Even in a wireless world, landlines 'have a place', says BCE’s CEO

In the age of wireless charging, driverless cars and widespread cord-cutting, George Cope still sees a home for the old wired telephone.

The CEO of BCE Inc (BCE.TO). – the parent company of BNN – acknowledged in an interview Friday morning the home phone business is “not what it was before.” Yet for all the various alternatives now available, Cope still sees a unique value proposition for people to keep the 140-year-old technology.

“Sometimes I think it is about the home, you know, the household,” Cope told BNN. “If you have younger children people may say I know the wireless networks work but I want to make sure I am not relying maybe on a babysitter to plug the phone in, to make sure their phone is charged, so the wireline business is there.”

“Then you have a generational issue where people are trying to get a hold of family members. So I think the product has a place in the marketplace, not what it was before and that is why we are growing in other areas,” Cope said.

Last year marked the first in Canadian history when the number of households subscribing exclusively to a mobile wireless service outnumbered those signed up only for landline service. The difference was significant, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, at 20.4 percent of households using just mobile phone service compared to 14.4 percent using just landlines.

“While the majority of Canadians still own and use landlines, the data attests to a slow and steady shift away from this technology in favour of wireless services,” the CRTC report said. “Indeed, more Canadian households have mobile phones (84.9 percent) than landlines (78.9 percent) – a big change from only ten years ago, when just over half of Canadian households subscribed to mobile phones (53.9 percent) and almost all owned landlines (96.3 percent).”

Bell lost slightly more than 58,000 home telephone subscribers in the final three months of 2015, roughly matching its landline losses during the same period one year earlier. Bundling has helped to stem the steepness of the cord-cutting, with Cope noting about 70 percent of new subscribers to the Fibe TV product also add home phone service.

Disaster preparedness also appears to be a motivator for holding off on cutting the old coiled telephone cord. The ability of landlines to remain functional even in the event of a widespread power outage – such as the major ice storm that beset much of Toronto during the winter of 2014 – remains an advantage over mobile networks.

That speaks to the peace-of-mind argument advanced by Cope, such that until consumers can count on their mobile phones as much as the copper-wire-connected variety, he believes “there will still be demand for [the landline] product.”

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