I’ve been using the same cordless phone system for probably 15 years.  It is a Panasonic KX-TG2720 base with lots of handsets.  An important feature for me is that it has 2 lines.  We still have a landline for the “house” and I have a work line.  I use the speakerphone.  We have Comcast voicemail on both lines and the handsets are setup to show when there is new mail and you just push a button to listen to your messages.  The handsets also include speakerphone capabilities.  The range is fantastic and covers our whole house including basement and all of our yard which isn’t saying too much, but the point is it is exactly what we need.

A month ago I re-jiggered our home network and replaced one of the older routers with a new one.  Since then we’ve been having interference between our handsets and the WiFi.  Frankly, it’s surprising we haven’t had a problem before since the old phone system is a 2.4 Ghz system and of course, that’s the band that WiFi has been operating in for years.  (And while I’d love to disable the 2.4 Ghz antenna from the routers, I have too many devices that don’t work with the 5 Ghz band.)  The new router has been a problem, though, making the phone sound really warbly when anywhere on the first floor – i.e. close the new router.

Since the phone system is so old, I spent a a couple of hours today trying to find a replacement and am amazed to report that such a thing doesn’t exist.  The 2-line feature is much harder to find that it was years ago.  I guess this isn’t too surprising since although many people may still have a home land line, secondary lines are generally just cell phones these days.  Also disappointing is that speakerphones that are labeled as full duplex turn out to be only half duplex.

But the most surprising thing is that new cordless phones don’t have voicemail indicators and/or don’t have buttons to dial the voicemail system.  Panasonic’s method for dialing voicemail is to hit menu and then dial a three digit menu code.  AT&T and V-tech instructions say simply that you just dial the access number and of course then the password number – in other words no special feature for voicemail at all.  I would assume you could define a preset to dial voice mail and include the password as you do any other phone number.  But my wife despises needing to remember which button to push when it isn’t labeled.  The fact that the current phone has a (soft) button labeled “mail” means she simply pushes that but if I were to say that she needs to dial preset 1 to get voicemail, the phone wouldn’t be used.  (Believe me, we’ve worked hard on the remote situation and I ended up giving up and just finding a way to stencil in the buttons I reprogrammed!)

So what’s going on here?  Are the phone manufacturers sensing that people that use voice mail are not people who want the latest phone technology?  Or did Panasonic and V-Tech get together and just decide it was easier to not bother with even a “soft” button!?

By the way, those are the only two brands that functionally make cordless phones in this market space.  RCA sort of does but only tangentially.  Uniden used to but appears to have shifted out of the consumer business.  And AT&T?  Well, that’s actually V-Tech in disguise.  You figure that out pretty quick when you read the instruction manual and find the same text in both.  Then if you look closely, you can see that the two companies’ models do have similar buttons just with different packaging.

I poked around eBay for a bit trying to find an older model of cordless phone system that has the features I want that is new enough to use DECT (instead of 2.4 Ghz) but is old enough to still have a voicemail button.  As you can imagine, there are tons of phone systems for sale and there is no “voicemail button” feature in the list of ways to search and it isn’t something that most listings mention.  I clicked on a few that I thought were about the right vintage and checked instructions only to discover the feature set has been the way it currently is for a while.

The solution?  Turn down the power of my router’s antenna.  Yep.  Stupid.  But it means I don’t need any new hardware for now.  That may put a future replacement purchase even further away from the time when phones had what I needed and therefore it may be harder to find this feature set later.  But maybe the features will change for the better.  Or maybe my needs will be different.

Oh, I feel I need to justify the landlines.  First, the home line is useful for general use.  It’s the number we can give to schools, camps, rental car companies, or anyone we, as a household, do business with.  The phone rings and we know that it is somebody that doesn’t need us urgently.  With a cell phone, the general nature of reaching either my wife or I or whoever is at the house is lost.  Also, if my brother is calling my cell, I know I need to answer right away but if he calls the home phone and I’m not home, he leaves a message.  In other words, a call to home means “calling to chat if you are home and have time” while a call to the cell means “answer the phone now”.  I think it is useful for the “house” to have a phone in addition to the adults in it each having their own phone.

Second, the work land line is important for work.  I spend enough time on the phone that I’d blow through my cell phone battery.  Also, signal at my house isn’t great now.  Most importantly, I despise the cell phone delay (introduced when switching from analog to digital cell signals!).  When I’m talking to somebody, I want the conversation to be immediate.  Without it, you end up having a stilted exchange that can’t be described as a conversation.  And again, with so much time on the phone for work, that would make me less productive.  In the future, I can see the battery problem becoming less of a hindrance as battery technology improves and docking options become more plentiful.  And now, my iPhone will do WiFi Calling over my home network which greatly improves the connection.  But the WiFi calling isn’t fully reliable yet (I don’t know why) so I end up failing back to the also somewhat unreliable cell connection sometimes and that frequently has the built in delay.  Put simply, I feel landlines are better at doing the fundamental job of providing a tool for conversation.  And while cell phones are obviously way more flexible, I don’t want to compromise the fundamental job of conversation for the sake of flexibility.

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