What you need to know about phone calls

Here is a brief summary on what you need to know about phone calls.


Before, during and after a traditional phone call, certain tones indicate the progress and status of the phone call:

  • a dial tone signifying that the system is ready to accept a phone number and connect the call
    or :
    • a ringing tone indicating that the called party has not yet answered the phone
    • a busy tone (or commitment tone) indicating that the called party’s phone is in use for a phone call with another person (or is “off the hook” although no number has been dialed, i.e. the customer does not want to be disturbed)
    • a fast busy signal (also called a reorder tone or overflow busy signal), which means that there is congestion in the telephone network, or possibly that the calling subscriber has taken too long to dial all the necessary digits. The fast busy signal is usually twice as fast as the normal busy signal.
  • status tones such as STD notification tones (to inform the caller that the phone call has been switched to long distance at a higher cost to the caller), minute counter beeps (to inform the caller of the relative duration of the phone call on time-based calls), etc.
  • a dial tone (sometimes the busy signal, often the dial tone) to signify that the called party has hung up.
  • The tones used by older in-band telephone switching systems were simulated by a red box or a blue box used by “phone phreaks” to illegally make or receive free calls.
  • An off-hook tone if the phone has been off the hook but no number has been dialed for an extended period of time.

Cell phones generally do not use dial tones because the technology used to transmit the dialed number is different from that of a landline phone.

Unsolicited calls

Unsolicited phone calls are a modern nuisance. The most common unwanted calls are hoaxes, telemarketing calls and obscene calls.

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Caller ID provides some protection against unwanted calls, but it can always be disabled by the caller. Even when caller ID is not available to the end user, calls are still recorded, both in the billing records of the originating telephone operator and via automatic number identification, so the caller’s telephone number can still be discovered in many cases. However, this does not provide complete protection: stalkers can use public phones, in some cases the automatic number identification itself can be spoofed or blocked, and cell phone abusers can (at some cost) use “disposable” phones or SIM cards.

Making a call

To make a traditional phone call, simply pick up the handset from the base and hold it so that the hearing end is next to the user’s ear and the speaking end is within reach of the mouth. The caller then dials a phone number or presses the keys of the phone number needed to complete the call, and the call is routed to the phone that has that number. The second phone rings to alert its owner, while the user of the first phone hears a ring in his earpiece. If the second phone is off the hook, the operators of the two units can then talk to each other through it. If the phone is not off the hook, the operator of the first phone continues to hear a ringing tone until they hang up their own phone.

One of the main difficulties faced by Alexander Graham Bell and his team was to prove to non-English speakers that this new phenomenon “worked in their language.” It was a concept that people had trouble understanding at first.

In addition to the traditional method of making a phone call, new technologies allow different methods of initiating a phone call, such as voice dialing. Voice over IP technology allows calls to be made through a PC, using a service such as Skype. Other services, such as free dialing, allow callers to make a phone call through a third party without exchanging phone numbers. Originally, no phone call could be made without first talking to the switchboard operator. The use of 21st century cell phones does not require an operator to complete a phone call.

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The use of headsets is increasingly common to make or receive a call. Headsets can come with a cord or be wireless.

A special number can be dialed for operator assistance, which may be different for local calls and long distance or international calls.

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