Virtually everyone in the country has used a telephone at some point in their lives. It's never been easier to get in touch with people in different regions of the UK and even across the globe. You can call them by pressing a few buttons, and they can answer by simply pressing a button or lifting their phone off its base.

While mobile phones are more commonly used today to make and receive calls, it's estimated that 73% of households in the UK still regularly use their landline. Despite their strong presence in the country, however, it's unlikely that everyone knows how their telephone actually works and the jobs that the different electronic equipment does.

Landline phones are easy to use and have a mostly universal design across different makes and models. Whether they feature an old-fashioned rotary dial or consist of a wireless handset and fixed cradle, all phones have at least nine numbered buttons from zero to nine so that you can call whichever phone numbers you want. They will also have an area at the top where you can hear people and an area at the bottom where you can speak into.

It's a good idea to understand the various components of your landline and mobile so that you have a better understanding if you encounter any issues when you are making or receiving calls. In this guide, we'll take you through the different features of telephones and how they work.

While telephones have evolved constantly since they were first invented nearly 150 years ago, the components of landline telephones remain largely the same. The parts listed below are found in virtually every landline phone around the world:

Receiver and transmitter

All landlines come with a handset that lets you simultaneously speak and listen by holding it up to your mouth and ear. The earpiece of the handset features an internal receiver that acts as an electroacoustic transducer to automatically convert electrical signals into sounds so that you can listen to what the other person is saying when they speak into their own handset.

The mouthpiece at the opposite end of the earpiece features a transmitter. When you speak into the mouthpiece, the transmitter acts as a microphone that will catch sound waves that pass through. The sound of your voice is converted to electronic signals via the transmitter, which is then sent through the telephone exchange to the other phone.

The transmitter and receiver are connected to a coil in the handset, which helps to prevent feedback (usually in the form of static or unexplained noises). The coil can also reduce ambient noise such as other people talking or wind blowing in the background. The handset may feature a volume button that lets you mute the microphone to prevent any sound from being transmitted from your end of the call. You can also increase the volume so that you are able to hear more sound through the receiver.

Most landline telephones are directly wired to the base (and potentially dial pad) through a telephone cord. However, some handsets also feature the dial pad, such is the case for wireless landline phones. The handset cord can sometimes get tangled, which can damage the wires inside or cause interference. It's advisable to try and untangle the cord before you make a phone call so that the sound quality isn't compromised.


Old rotary phones feature a circular disk that you must rotate with your finger to select each digit. When rotated, the dial creates pulses that interrupt the phone circuit's flow. The number of interruptions indicates which number has been selected. Six pulses mean that the number six has been selected, for example. After the correct amount of digits has been selected, the phone exchange transfers the call through the phone line to the corresponding phone.

The dialling system from rotary phones is very similar to the system used on modern phones. However, instead of pulses, the numbered buttons on the keypad produce tones that indicate which number has been selected. Each number on the keypad has two specific tones assigned to them. The first is a low-frequency tone that indicates which row the number is on, and the second is a high-frequency tone that indicates which column the number is on.

Dial pads feature 12 buttons, which include the digits zero to nine and the * and # symbols. These buttons can be used for forwarding a call, calling an extension and speed dialling a number. In recent years, these buttons have largely become obsolete as many companies let you specify which extension you want to be forwarded to by voice recognition. Many phones also come with inbuilt digital phone books that let you save numbers so that you can quickly call them without having to select each individual number.


The switch, or plunger as it is sometimes known, is usually located on the base of the phone where the handset rests. Once the switch is compressed, the phone circuit will close and end the call. Once the handset is lifted off the switch, the circuit opens and allows you to answer or make a call. Modern phones usually feature an electronic switch instead of a physical plunger.

It's common to see characters in old films repeatedly pressing on the switch if they are frantically trying to make a call. This action was an attempt to reach the phone operator or someone working on the switchboard if they didn't have time to dial a number.


The best way to get someone's attention is through a loud or repetitive sound, which is the purpose of a phone's ringer. When there is an incoming call, a rotary phone would ring a bell to get the recipient's attention. On modern phones, an electronic melody or tone will sound until you pick up the handset or press the answer button on the dial pad.

Some modern phones are fitted with a light that will flash when there is an incoming call. This is to help notify individuals who are hard of hearing that they need to answer the phone.

There are various reasons that you may not be able to make or receive calls. It's a good idea to make sure that the cord is still attached properly to the handset or phone base as it may have come unplugged or tangled. You should try to use the same cord that came with the phone as a different cord may not work properly.

It's important that both ends of the power adapted are securely plugged into the phone and the power socket. The power switch should also be turned on at the wall.

If you have a wireless handset, it may have lost its link to the base if it is too far away or has encountered a block. Your phone may display 'searching' or 'out of range' text, which means that you should move the handset closer to the base or reconnect the signal by placing it onto the base. If the phone still doesn't connect to its base, try turning the device off and on again at the wall.

The final check is to try and connect a known working phone to the socket. You could also test your phone on a neighbour's line. If this phone stops working, the issue is probably with your power socket or phone line. You may be experiencing a power outage, or the phone line might be down. Try to contact your service provider to get your phone checked out or to confirm whether the phone line is experiencing problems.

Whereas landline phones rely on a physical wire to enable them to make and receive calls, mobile phones use a wireless connection. Modern mobile phones use a cellular network that allows you to make calls wherever you are, as long as you are in range of a cell tower.

When you speak on a mobile phone, the words that you say are picked up by a tiny microphone and converted into electrical signals. These signals are then transformed into strings of numbers and sent via radio waves through your phone's antenna. The antenna is usually visible at the top of older mobile phone models, whereas it is usually embedded within modern devices.

The radio waves are transmitted through the air until they reach the nearest cellular tower. Once the tower mast picks up the signal, the signal is sent to the base section of the local network. From this point, the signal is sent to the recipient's phone through the cellular network.

As with a landline phone, mobile phones feature keypads that let you dial a specific number. Older phones feature physical buttons that are similar to those on landline phones, whereas modern models often have digital keypads instead.

You may experience phone echoing when you are on a call, which usually involves the other person's voice repeating at delayed intervals and sounding louder than usual. This can be irritating, but it isn't usually a problem that is caused by the affected person's phone. In other words, the person you are talking to is likely causing the echo rather than your phone experiencing issues.

The problem occurs when there is a delay issue with someone's phone. If the delay is less than 25 milliseconds, you likely won't notice it, but you will if it is more than 55 milliseconds. This will make it sound like there are two people speaking at once rather than just one.

The issue can often occur when the caller is using a speakerphone, particularly if they are using a smartphone. The microphone on their phone will pick up what you are saying and play it back to you. To fix this, it's helpful for the person to turn down the volume on their phone so that the microphone doesn't pick up too much sound and relay it back through the call.

Another issue may be an internet connection if you or the other caller are calling through a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service such as Whatsapp. There may be a lag in voice transmission if the upload and download speed is less than 0.1 Mbps each.

Damaged equipment such as cords and internal wires can also cause problems such as voice echoing. It may be a good idea to replace any faulty wires if you are experiencing problems. You should also replace wires if they start to fray or become otherwise damaged so that they don't affect the quality of your calls in the future.

If you have looked at your phone equipment and can't find an issue, it's a good idea to notify the person at the other end of the call in case they are able to look into the problem themselves. You could ask them to take the phone off speakerphone in case that stops the echoing.

The dictionary definition of a telephone receiver is a piece of apparatus in the earphone that converts electrical signals into sound. While this sounds complex, the process is virtually instantaneous. The phone's handset features the receiver, along with the transmitter, which allows you to make and receive calls.

Landline telephones function by converting sound waves into electric signals and sending them to a phone exchange before they are transmitted to the recipient's phone. Within the phone, the receiver converts received signals from your phone into electric signals that translate as sound, while the transmitter converts sound in your mouthpiece into electric signals to be sent to the recipient's phone.

Converting electric signals into sounds is a system that has been used since phones were first made. However, while landlines still use this system, mobile phones use radio waves instead. The main difference is that sound is converted into radio waves through a mobile phone transmitter, which is then sent to nearby cell towers through a cellular network.

The switch in the landline phone base determines whether the phone circuit is open or closed, which in turn determines whether you can make calls. When you put the handset onto the base, the switch (or plunger) will be pressed down and will close the circuit. When you lift the handset, the circuit is opened as the switch is released. This means that many landline phones allow you to answer phones when you lift the handset from the cradle.