How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 491

When you make a telephone call, you send an analog signal from your phone to a central station. Is this direct current or alternating current? How do you and your neighbors share the line?
When you are talking to a friend over the telephone, the telephone company uses a special power supply to send a constant (direct current) through your telephones. Your telephone and your friend's telephone share this current so that if your telephone draws more, your friend's telephone receives less. When you talk into the microphone of your telephone, the current your telephone draws fluctuates up and down with the air pressure fluctuations at the microphone. As a result, the current through your friend's telephone fluctuates down and up, the reverse of the current fluctuations in your telephone. A speaker in your friend's telephone uses these current fluctuations to recreate the sound of your voice. When there are other extensions active in your home, they are all sharing this current so that talking into one telephone causes sound to be reproduced in all of the other telephones, both in your home and in your friend's home. While modern electronics have changed the telephone system extensively, so that this direct current sharing isn't quite the reality it was 30 years ago, all of the complicated electronic circuitry works to simulate this same relationship.

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