How Everything Works
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Question 474

What is DTMF and how can I measure the pulses on a rotary phone?
DTMF is short for "Dual Tone MultiFrequency" and refers to the pair of tones that a telephone uses to send dialing information to the telephone switching system. Each time you press one of the buttons on the telephone, it emits two tones simultaneously. A decoder at the other end recognizes these two tones and determines what button you pushed. One tone is associated with the button's row and one tone with the button's column. Since there are four rows of buttons, there are 4 possible row tones and since there are three columns of buttons, there are 3 possible column tones. A fourth column of buttons, A through D, and a fourth column tone are part of the specifications for DTMF but do not appear in normal telephones. Naturally, all 8 tones are different and the web has countless pages that discuss these tones (touch here for an example)

As for measuring the pulses on a rotary phone, you can do this if you can study the telephone's electric impedance (or resistance). As the dial switch turns, it briefly hangs up the telephone repeatedly. The number of hangups is equal to the number you are dialing (although dialing "0" causes it to hang up 10 times). You can actually dial by hanging up the telephone rhythmically and rapidly several times. If you click the hang-up button 5 times rapidly, you will dial a "5". To detect that this hanging up is happening electronically, measure the telephone's impedance—the impedance rises dramatically during each hang-up. If there is a constant current passing through the telephone, the voltage across its two wires will rise. If there is a constant voltage reaching the telephone, the current passing through it will drop. The telephone company detects this repeated change in impedance and determines what number you dialed.


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