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How the Telephone Works

How the Telephone Works

When a person speaks into a telephone, the sound waves created by his voice enter the mouthpiece.  An electric current carries the sound to the telephone of the person he is talking to.  A telephone has two main parts: (1) the transmitter and (2) the receiver.

The Transmitter of a telephone serves as a sensitive “electric ear”. It lies behind the mouthpiece of the phone.  Like the human ear, the transmitter has an “eardrum".  The Eardrum of the telephone is a thin, round metal disk called a diaphragm.  When a person talks into the telephone, the sound waves strike the diaphragm and make it vibrate.  The diaphragm vibrates at various speeds, depending on the variations in air pressure caused by the varying tones of the speaker’s voice.

Behind the diaphragm lies a small cup filled with tiny grains of carbon.  The diaphragm presses against these carbon grains.  Low voltage electric current travels through the grains. This current comes from batteries at the telephone company.  The pressure on the carbon grains varies as sound waves make the diaphragm vibrate.  A loud sound causes the sound waves to push hard on the diaphragm.  In turn, the diaphragm presses the grains tightly together. This action makes it easier for the electric current to travel through, and a large amount of electricity flows through the grains.  When the sound is soft, the sound waves push lightly on the diaphragm.  In turn, the diaphragm puts only a light pressure on the carbon grains.  The grains are pressed together loosely.  This makes it harder for the electric current to pass through them, and less current flows through the grains.

Thus, the pattern of the sound waves determines the pressure on the diaphragm. This pressure, in turn, regulates the pressure on the carbon grains.  The crowded or loose grains cause the electric current to become stronger or weaker.  The current copies the pattern of the sound waves and travels over a telephone wire to the receiver of another telephone.

The Receiver serves as an “electric mouth”.  Like the human voice, it has “vocal cords”. The vocal cords of the receiver are a diaphragm.  Two magnets located at the edge of the diaphragm cause it to vibrate.  One of the magnets is a permanent magnet that constantly holds the diaphragm close to it.  The other magnet is an electromagnet.  It consists of a piece of iron with a coil of wire wound around it.  When an electric current passes through the coil, the iron core becomes magnetized.  The diaphragm is pulled toward the iron core and away from the permanent magnet.  The pull of the electromagnet varies between strong and weak, depending on the variations in the current.  Thus, the electromagnet controls the vibrations of the diaphragm in the receiver.

The electric current passing through the electromagnet becomes stronger or weaker according to the loud or soft sounds.  This action causes the diaphragm to vibrate according to the speaker’s speech pattern.  As the diaphragm moves in and out, it pulls and pushes the air in front of it.  The pressure on the air sets up sound waves that are the same as the ones sent into the transmitter.  The sound waves strike the ear of the listener and he hears the words of the speaker.

A Simple Telephone

Surprisingly, a telephone is one of the simplest devices you have in your house. It is so simple because the telephone connection to your house has not changed in nearly a century. If you have an antique phone from the 1920s, you could connect it to the wall jack in your house and it would work fine!

A Real Telephone

The only problem with the Simple phone is that when you talk, you will hear your voice through the speaker.

Most people find that annoying, so any "real" phone contains a device called a duplex coil or something functionally equivalent to block the sound of your own voice from reaching your ear. A modern telephone also includes a bell so it can ring and a touch-tone keypad and frequency generator.

Making a Telephone Call

The Telephone is a truly remarkable invention:

  • When you lift the handset, it signals you with a receiving tone called a dial tone should you wish to utilise use the (worldwide) phone system.  The dial tone comes from the exchange, not the handset.
  • Dial tone indicates that the exchange is ready to receive the digits of your call destination.
  • It sends the number of the telephone to be called.
  • It indicates the progress of your call by receiving tones – ringing, busy, etc.
  • It alerts you to an incoming call.
  • It changes your speech into electrical signals for transmission across the carrier network.
  • It converts the electrical signals it receives back into recognisable speech.
  • It automatically adjusts for changes in the power supply from the Service Provider
  • When you hang up, it signals the exchange that your call is finished.