Cordless Phones - Just How Do They Work?

Published: 29th January 2007
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If it weren't for the cordless phone allowing me to carry my communications link where ever I go, I don't know if I would be able to get anything done. As much as I use the cordless technology, I haven't thought once about just how it works.

For those of you who have a curiosity that kills cats, like me, I decided to see just what the process entails. The simplicity of it all caught me off guard.

There are two basic parts to every cordless phone - the base and the handset.

The base is attached to the phone system through a phone jack in your home. The system doesn't even recognize that it is different from the regular corded phones. The difference comes with the first call you receive. A cordless phone takes the call (which comes in the form of an electrical signal) and translates it to an FM radio signal. It then broadcasts this radio signal into space looking for your handset.

Does this mean that it is possible for just anyone to intercept your phone conversations? The answer is most definitely yes! Manufacturers have combated this some by making cordless phones that continuously switch frequencies, but even that doesn't guarantee privacy. Experts recommend that any conversations requiring person identity information (such as SS #, account numbers, or passwords) should always be made on a corded phone. There is just no way to be sure who is listening to what you are saying.

The handset is the second part of the cordless phone. When the handset picks up the FM radio signal, it converts that back to the electrical signal and then converts that into a signal that your ear can understand. When you talk back into the handset, the process is repeated in reverse. This process is very much like a walkie-talkie. The difference is that the cordless phone works on a duplex frequency that allows both parties to send and receive signals simultaneously.

The first cordless phones appeared around 1980. The range that the handsets could move from the bases was extremely limited by the frequencies that were used. Today, thanks to restrictions being lifted by the FCC, those frequencies have been expanded and the ranges have dramatically increased.

Kathryn Lang is a freelance telecommunications writer, specializing in Cordless phones and digital phone technology. She also writes for Dect News.

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