Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cutting the Cord

Change is hard for everyone. Old habits are comfortable and moving to something different generally requires a learning curve.

Although I'm often an agent of change, I still experience feelings of stress of when I make radical leaps in technology or move to a major new workflow.

Over the past month I have eliminated my landline phone at Harvard Medical School. In these lean times, we're all looking for ways to reduce costs. The loaded cost for landlines at Harvard is $49/user/month for ISDN Centrex phones and $18/user/month for analog service. Some are downgrading from ISDN to analog. I eliminated my phone entirely.

There are several reasons for this

*Given my 24x7x365 lifestyle, asynchronous communication via email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking applications is much more efficient than phone calls

*I receive Blackberry email every minute, but check voice mail one a month

*I'm rarely sitting at a desk

In the past, I relied on a desk phone for press interviews, webinars and conference calls. I resisted the complete transition to a mobile phone. After realizing that my fears of dropped calls, poor sound quality, and lack of speakerphone features were unfounded, I decided that a mobile only approach to phones is good enough.

Yesterday was a good example of the kind of flexibility I need. While attending a meeting in Washington from 10am to 3pm, I also had to hold a webinar for 2500 people from a hotel lobby. This required me to use a cell phone and a laptop without a wireless network. I spoke and asked the conference organizer to advance the slides. It worked flawlessly. Gaining comfort with using a mobile phone for every task has required a change in my mindset - I no longer travel to a desk just to do a conference call or webinar. Emotionally, I'm still working through the change, but technologically there are no issues.

What about cellular phone quality? In most metropolitan locations, there is no issue, but at my home in Wellesley, there is spotty coverage from all cellular providers. To address this issue, I installed a cell tower in my basement - a FemtoCell. The Verizon Network Extender uses my home FIOS connection to create an inbuilding cell presence, giving me 5 bars of service throughout my home for a one time expense of $249 and no monthly fees.

At the moment, I still have a home landline, but that may go away too. American society is moving to wireless only communications like many other parts of the world. In China, Japan and Korea wireless far exceeds wired connections purely because of the timing of their technology implementations. Wireless became available before the country was wired, so there is no real need for wired phones. Additionally, the Japanese cellular is so good that WiFi is rarely used in the country. You get broadband speeds on cell phones throughout the country.

Thus, I've cut the cord. I'm not entirely adjusted to the change, but it's the right thing to do. I'm confident that the combination of cellular phones and Femtocells to ensure a good quality signal in my home is a winner.


Rajesh Bhutani said...


In every change, there is a fear of "what if". Overcoming that fear is critical. Having lived in India and Nigeria, I can share my experience of land lines versus cellphone. 10-15 years ago, both countries had very poor communication infrastructure. Having a working landline was a privelege. In Nigeria, I had to share my home phone with two other familiies.

Then came the cell phones. Reliable, cheap and fashionable, the number of cell phones connections now exceeds the land lines in India. It took less than 10 years.


Alan said...

Check this out. Google is just about to roll out Google Voice, what was Grand Central, a service closed to new users since Google bought it a couple of years ago. GC's pretty cool at the moment but GV will be a killer app once it is fully integrated into Google's online services.

EWG said...

Sounds as though fewer systems lead to interoperability.

Norris Battin said...

Does your new cell system indicate the location for 911 calls?

Norris Battin

John Halamka said...

The FemotoCell has a built in GPS, so it does report my location for 911 calls. Requiring GPS for a home cell tower is very creative.

Mike said...

Hi John,
I read an article not too long ago about the idea that businesses and hospitals may eventually move to 90% cellular communication, removing their land lines (perhaps you wrote that?). In some dialog with a hospital CIO, one issue that was raised was the idea that a hospital could maintain its own land line network but would have difficulty controlling its own cellular network. And, it would not be feasible to use a public cellular network as it would not be dependable during high traffic times. Do you have any experience or thoughts on this?


Jon Witkin said...

John --

I am one to read up on new technology + try to keep up with the trends. I was one of the first cable modem subscribers and have been one now for nearly 15 years. The one tech I was hesitant of was a cell phone. When I started at BIDMC (CareGroup at the time) I was issued one. Since then I have slowly transitioned to using it more + more. When I had to live on my own, I rented an 800 number, just for voicemail. Even though it was cheap, I gave it up quickly as it went unused. I now have a Blackberry and do not think I can ever go back from having the Internet at my fingertips.
I realize my decision really only affected me, but more and more folks are making the one you have made recently. It is to bad the cell service in the area of you home is shoddy, but there is technology to fix that as well.
-- Jon

Lee said...

If you have access to a high speed internet connection, have a wireless router, you can have 2 lines in your office buy buying a Linksys PAP2 and going VOIP.

The cost for the Linksys is ~$50 and the cost of the line is $1.95 per month plus $0.015 a minute for incoming and outgoing calls through a service like CallCentric.

You also get voice mail and faxes and can easily listen or read faxes with any connection to the internet.

You are a CIO?

Mike from Norwell said...

I'll offer another suggestion (and I'm surprised that more people haven't talked about this feature). Change over to T-Mobile, get an appropriate phone that has a WiFi radio (I use a Blackberry Curve), and sign up for their Hotspot@Home service. Ten bucks a month and you're off to the races. Easy enough to set up, and now your calls are going over WiFi instead of the cell network. If you spend the ten bucks a month, NONE of your minutes used while accessing through the Internet count against your cell phone count. In addition, call quality is actually better over WiFi.

You can remember setups/profiles, so now any calls I make/receive at work are essentially free. In addition, I'm down in Duxbury with problematic service (funny how the fancy towns tend to have spotty coverage - something about how ugly those cell phone towers look I guess). The Wifi at home feature eliminates the coverage problem at home. Dropped a second line for business as a result.

Amy Reinhart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy Reinhart said...

I've been working to reduce the number of phone lines in my department as our bill exceeds $5000/month. It's been interesting to consider how things have changed over the past few years as individuals have their own cell phones for personal calls, and much more communication is being done via e-mail. People working in labs use the phone very little in their daily work lives.

Since the financial crunch, labs have been more willing to give up some of the phone numbers they've had and have the remaining numbers ring in more locations. I wonder if in another year we won't be able to reduce the number of fax machines to one per floor instead of one per lab?

I have considered eliminating my desk phone, but I'm not quite there yet. I don't have an assistant, so every single call for my office would come to my cell phone. That said, I don't much like voice mail, as I find it is often very difficult to decipher people's names and so I would rather take calls live whenever possible.

Is your cell phone number now publicly available in phone directories? If I cut the cord, I would need to do that, and that is not totally appealing.

John Halamka said...

Pallykin makes a good point. I do not publish my cell phone number, but my assistant can route any calls there if needed. To be honest, I receive so few calls (everyone emails) that it has not been an issue. My calls are generally outbound.

Mike from Norwell - great comment. Let's hope other carriers offer phone over WiFi service eventually.