Considerations - Cordless Phone

Cordless phones are inexpensive, and sound great, but they're not all alike. There are quite a few on the market, from name brands like GE and Uniden, as well as many lesser known names. This article lists some of the things that distinguish one from another, and some things to watch out for.

One important thing to remember is that you should always have at least one corded (not wireless) phone in your house, so that if the power goes out you still have a telephone! The wireless handset will still work when the power's out, but the base station won't have the power it needs to pick up the wireless signal.

Frequency

Wireless phones all have a frequency range that they use to communicate between the handset and the base station. What frequency the phone uses generally tells you a lot about the quality and range you can expect from the phone.

Higher frequency phones can give you better sound quality, but take more power. The power consumption of all of them is tiny; the limiting factor is how much power the phone is allowed to use, which is regulated by local governments (the FCC in the US).

Phones these days are generally 900mhz, 2.4ghz, or 5.8ghz. 900mhz phones are analog, 2.4ghz and 8.5ghz are digital. (More on the importance of analog vs. digital later).

A 2.4ghz phone is allowed to use more power than a 900mhz phone, but a 5.8ghz phone isn't allowed to use more power than a 2.4ghz. This means a 2.4ghz phone is the best tradeoff between power and sound quality.

But an important caveat is the 2.4ghz range is also used by by the 802.11 wireless protocol that computer networks use. If you have a laptop or any other wireless computing device in your home (or plan to get one) then it's best to avoid the 2.4ghz phones and go with a 5.8ghz phone.

Security

Analog phones don't have encryption; your voice is broadcast like a radio signal that anyone within range can pick up. This means with a 900mhz analog phone, if you're close to your neighbors and they have the same sort of phone, it's possible you could overhear their conversations - or they could overhear yours. Definitely something to consider.

Digital phones are a little more expensive, but the difference is pretty small and the encryption and frequency selection techniques they use (to avoid collisions with other nearby phones) make them worth it.

Voice Quality

How good the phone sound when you talk into it. This will vary from brand to brand, depending on the quality of the components used, but also will generally vary depending on the technology. A 5.8ghz phone will sound better than a 900mhz phone, because it's a digital signal that's just less prone to losing quality.

Brand comes into play here. A 5.8ghz phone with a crummy microphone or speaker isn't going to sound good.

For this reason you need to base your decision not only on the checklist on the box, but on reviews or on trying it out. It's tough to try out a cordless phone in a store, but fortunately most electronics retailers let you return products you're not happy with, so make sure the return policy works for you and then pick up a phone that fits your budget, take it home, and try it out.

Make sure you walk as far from the base as you're going to be when you're using the phone - if you want to use the phone on the porch, judge the voice quality from out there before you decide to keep the phone. The farther you are from the base, the more likely the signal is going to degrade or drop out.

Range

Range varies based on the layout of your house and other factors - take the manufacturers range as a general guideline. If they say it's good for 50 feet and you need 80 feet, then it won't cut it; but the manufacturer promising a range of 100 feet doesn't guarantee that it will work for you.

Multi-Line

If you're running a business, have teenagers, or are considering using VoIP technology in your home, then consider a multi-line cordless phone like the Uniden Tru8866. This lets you have two phone lines, and place or answer calls on either of them.

A 2-line phone with a single base and multiple handsets works especially well for VoIP because you can put the base where your VoIP adapter is, plug the base into it, and then be able to use both your traditional phone line or your VoIP line from any phone in the house, without any additional wiring.

See Also

There's a good description of the technology involved here.


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