Commercial telephones underwent a dramatic change in the 1990s, shifting from primarily non-mobile landline applications to mobile cell phones. Additionally, with the Internet, came VoIP (Voice-Over Internet Protocol) capabilities, eliminating the need for an actual physical phone. Public pay phones also began to diminish as cell phones became increasingly ubiquitous and reliable.
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At the beginning of the 1990s, the majority of homes in the world that had telephones had a landline phone. Landline phones were hooked up to one phone jack in the house, which corresponded to one telephone line. Different varieties of landline phones included cordless phones, which had a base hooked up to the phone jack and a battery-powered cradle that could receive the signal from the transmitting base within a predefined radius. Also, there were multiple-phone-line telephones, which could handle several different phone lines at once by plugging into multiple jacks.
At the end of the 1990s, cell phones were on their way to outnumbering landline phones in numerous countries, including Nigeria, India, El Salvador and the United Arab Emirates, which, by 2006, officially had more cell phones than landlines. Cell phones initially were two to three inches thick, had a large protruding antenna and a blocky body that spanned the length of the face. Over the course of the decade, cell phones gradually shrank in size, thickness and weight, and adopted digital panels with smaller keypads.
Public pay phones traditionally had been operated by coin. In the 1990s, the use of prepaid phone cards increased, allowing individuals with a phone card to forgo coins and use their account number as a method of payment instead. Although while some countries, such as Mexico, experienced an increase in the installation of pay phones, other countries, such as the U.S., experienced negligible growth in installation due to the increasing popularity of cell phones.
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