The Evolution of Cordless Phones: A Consumer's Guide

Apr 11


Brooke Yan

Brooke Yan

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In the dynamic world of cordless telephony, two significant trends have emerged: the adoption of higher frequency bands for clearer communication and the increasing capability of base stations to support multiple handsets. This evolution has made it more convenient than ever to place a phone in any room, even without a nearby phone jack. With a myriad of options available, from basic models to feature-rich multi-handset systems, consumers face a wide array of choices. This guide delves into the latest developments in cordless phones, offering insights to help you select the perfect device for your needs.

Understanding the Cordless Phone Market

Leading manufacturers such as AT&T,The Evolution of Cordless Phones: A Consumer's Guide Articles Bell South, GE, Panasonic, Uniden, and VTech dominate over 70% of the cordless phone market. VTech, in particular, has expanded its presence by acquiring AT&T's Consumer Products Division, producing phones under both the AT&T and VTech brands.

The current market trends point towards phones that can support two or more handsets from a single base, the availability of less expensive 2.4- and 5.8-GHz analog phones, and the proliferation of full-featured digital phones in the same frequency ranges. It's now common for multiple-handset-capable phones to include an additional handset with a charging cradle. Approximately one-third of cordless phones sold today come with a built-in digital answering machine.

Transmission Technologies and Frequency Bands

Cordless phones transmit signals in various ways, each with its own set of advantages and drawbacks:

Analog Phones

  • Pros: Better voice quality, extensive range, minimal interference with other wireless products.
  • Cons: Lower security, potential for static and RF interference.
  • Price Range: $15 to $100.

Digital Phones

  • Pros: Comparable range to analog, enhanced security, reduced RF interference.
  • Cons: May still cause some interference with other devices.
  • Price Range: $50 to $130.

Digital Spread Spectrum (DSS)

  • Pros: Increased security, immunity from RF interference, potentially better range.
  • Cons: May interfere with other wireless products in standby mode.
  • Price Range: $75 to $225 for multiple handset systems.

Frequency Bands

  • 900-MHz: Still available, accounting for about a quarter of the market.
  • 2.4-GHz: Commonly used but prone to interference from various wireless devices.
  • 5.8-GHz: Less interference due to fewer competing products in this band.

Key Features to Consider

Most cordless phones come with standard features such as volume control, handset ringer, last-number redial, a pager for locating the handset, a flash button for call waiting, and a low-battery indicator. Additional handsets and charging cradles are often sold separately, though more phones now include these in the package.

An LCD screen on many handsets and bases can display a personal phone directory, caller ID information, battery strength, and call duration. Caller ID service requires a subscription from your phone company. Two-line support is beneficial for managing a business and personal line simultaneously, and some phones offer an auxiliary jack for fax or modem connections.

Speakerphones provide a hands-free option for conversations, and base keypads facilitate navigation through menu-driven systems. Lighted keypads are helpful in low-light conditions. Handset jacks allow for hands-free use with a headset, typically sold separately for around $20.

Battery backup compartments in the base can hold a spare handset battery pack or alkaline batteries, ensuring functionality during power outages. It's recommended to keep a corded phone as a backup for emergencies.

Multiple-handset-capable phones may feature intercom mode, conferencing capabilities, and direct communication between handsets, similar to walkie-talkies. However, the number of handsets that can be used simultaneously may be limited.

Making the Right Choice

When selecting a cordless phone, consider the amount of hardware you need, the technology and frequency band that best suits your requirements, and the specific features you desire. While 900-MHz phones may be harder to find, they can still meet the needs of many users. For those concerned with privacy, DSS or digital phones are recommended.

It's important to carefully read the packaging to ensure you're getting the security features you expect. Dual-band transmission should also be verified by checking the fine print.

Before purchasing, test the handset for comfort and ease of use. Remember that a corded phone is still a reliable option during power outages or cell network congestion.

Answering Machines and Message Centers

Digital answering machines are available as standalone devices or integrated with phone systems. Combo units save space but risk losing both functions if one fails. Standard features include a selectable number of rings, toll-saver, call screening, remote access, and message navigation. Advanced features may include multiple mailboxes, advanced playback controls, and visual or audible message alerts.

In tests conducted by Consumer Reports, most answering machines provided very good voice quality for recorded messages. Prices range from $20 to $80 for standalone units and $30 to $240 for combo units.

For the latest information on cordless phones and other consumer products, visit Consumer Reports.

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