Telephones: Digitizing and Delivering
The concentrator digitizes your voice at a sample rate of 8,000 samples per second and 8-bit resolution (see How Analog and Digital Recording Works for information on digitizing sounds). It then combines your voice with dozens of others and sends them all down a single wire (usually a coax cable or a fibre-optic cable) to the phone company office. Either way, your line connects into a line card at the switch so you can hear the dial tone when you pick up your phone.
If you are calling someone connected to the same office, then the switch simply creates a loop between your phone and the phone of the person you called. If it's a long-distance call, then your voice is digitized and combined with millions of other voices on the long-distance network. Your voice normally travels over a fibre-optic line to the office of the receiving party, but it may also be transmitted by satellite or by microwave towers.
Creating Your Own Telephone Network
Not only is a telephone a simple device, but the connection between you and the phone company is even simpler. In fact, you can easily create your own intercom system using two telephones, a 9-volt battery (or some other simple power supply) and a 300-ohm resistor that you can get for a dollar at Radio Shack. You can wire it up like this:
Your connection to the phone company consists of two copper wires. Usually they are red and green. The green wire is common, and the red wire supplies your phone with 6 to 12 volts DC at about 30 milliamps. If you think about a simple carbon granule microphone, all it is doing is modulating that current (letting more or less current through depending on how the sound waves compress and relax the granules), and the speaker at the other end "plays" that modulated signal. That's all there is to it!
The easiest way to wire up a private intercom like this is to go to a hardware or discount store and buy a 100-foot phone cord. Cut it, strip the wires and hook in the battery and resistor as shown. (Most cheap phone cords contain only two wires, but if the one you buy happens to have four, then use the center two.) When two people pick up the phones together, they can talk to each other just fine. This sort of arrangement will work at distances of up to several miles apart.
The only thing your little intercom cannot do is ring the phone to tell the person at the other end to pick up. The "ring" signal is a 90-volt AC wave at 20 hertz (Hz).
In a modern phone system, the operator has been replaced by an electronic switch. When you pick up the phone, the switch senses the completion of your loop and it plays a dial tone sound so you know that the switch and your phone are working. The dial tone sound is simply a combination of 350-hertz tone and a 440-hertz tone, and it sounds like this:
You then dial the number using a touch-tone keypad. The different dialing sounds are made of pairs of tones, as shown here:
If the number is busy, you hear a busy signal that is made up of a 480-hertz and a 620-hertz tone, with a cycle of one-half second on and one-half second of
In order to allow more long-distance calls to be transmitted, the frequencies transmitted are limited to a bandwidth of about 3,000 hertz. All of the frequencies in your voice below 400 hertz and above 3,400 hertz are eliminated. That's why someone's voice on a phone has a distinctive sound.