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A telephone call is a connection over a telephone network between the calling party and the called party.

Information transmission

A telephone call may carry ordinary voice transmission using a telephone, data transmission when the calling party and called party are using modems, or facsimile transmission when they are using fax machines. The call may use land line, cell phone, satellite phone or any combination thereof. Where a telephone call has more than one called party it is referred to as a conference call. When two or more users of the network are sharing the same physical line, it is called a party line or Rural phone line.

Calls are usually placed through a network (such as the Public Switched Telephone Network) provided by a commercial telephone company. If the caller's wireline phone is directly connected to the calling party, when the caller takes their telephone off-hook, the calling party's phone will ring. This is called a hot line or ringdown. Otherwise, the calling party is usually given a tone to indicate they should begin dialing the desired number. In some (now very rare) cases, the calling party cannot dial calls directly, and is connected to an operator who places the call for them.

Most telephone calls in the world are set up using ISUP messages or one of its variants between telephone exchanges to establish the end to end connection.


Some types of calls are not charged, such as local calls (and Internal calls) dialled directly by a telephone subscriber in Canadamarker, the United Statesmarker, Hong Kongmarker, United Kingdommarker, Irelandmarker or New Zealandmarker (Residential subscribers only). In most other areas, all telephone calls are charged a fee for the connection. Fees depend on the provider of the service, the type of service being used (a call placed from a landline or wired telephone will have one rate, and a call placed from a mobile telephone will have a different rate) and the distance between the calling and the called parties. In most circumstances, the calling party pays this fee. However, in some circumstances such as a reverse charge or collect call, the called party pays the cost of the call. In some circumstances, the caller pays a flat rate charge for the telephone connection and does not pay any additional charge for all calls made. Telecommunication liberalization has been established in several countries to allows customers to keep their local phone provider and use an alternate provider for a certain call in order to save money.

Placing a call

A typical phone call, traditionally, is placed by picking the phone handset up off the base and holding the handset so that the hearing end is next to the user's ear and the speaking end is within range of the mouth. The caller would then rotary dial or press the phone numbers needed to complete the call.

In addition to the traditional method of placing a telephone call, newer ways today enable various methods for initiating a telephone call. The technology of Voice over IP VoIP allows calls to be made through a PC, like with the service of Skype. Other services enable callers to initiate a telephone call without exchanging their phone numbers through a third party.

The use of headsets for a phone calls,is becoming more common for placing or receiving a call. Thus changing the way that people are conducting telephone calls in modern times. Headsets can come with either a cord, or can be wireless.


Preceding, during, and after a traditional telephone call is placed, certain tones signify the progress and status of the telephone call:
  • a dial tone signifying that the system is ready to accept a telephone number and connect the call
  • either:
    • a ringing tone signifying that the calling party has yet to answer the telephone
    • a busy signal (or engaged tone) signifying that the calling party's telephone is being used in a telephone call to another person (or is "off the hook" though no number has been dialled, ie the customer does not want to be disturbed)
    • a fast busy signal (also called reorder tone or overflow busy tone) signifying that there is congestion in the telephone network, or possibly that the calling subscriber has delayed too long in dialling all the necessary digits. The fast busy signal is generally twice as fast as the normal busy signal.
  • status tones such as STD notification tones (to inform the caller that the telephone call is being trunk dialled at a greater cost to the calling party), minute minder beeps (to inform the caller of the relative duration of the telephone call on calls that are charged on a time basis), and others
  • a tone (sometimes the busy signal, often the dial tone) to signify that the called party has hung up.
  • tones used by earlier inband telephone switching systems were simulated by a Red box or a blue box used by "phone phreaks" to illegally make or receive free trunk/toll calls.

Unwanted calls

Unsolicited telephone calls are a modern nuisance. Common kinds of unwanted calls include prank calls, telemarketing calls, and obscene phone calls.

Caller ID provides some protection against unwanted calls, but can still be turned off by the calling party. Even where end-user Caller ID is not available, calls are still logged, both in billing records at the originating telco and via automatic number identification, so the perpetrator's phone number can still be discovered in many cases. However, this does not provide complete protection: harassers can use payphones, in some cases, automatic number identification itself can be spoofed or blocked, and mobile telephone abusers can (at some cost) use "throwaway" phones or SIMs.


  • Rabinow, J., -- "Telephone call indicator" -- November 12, 1957


  1. See - Beemask - Private Calling

See also

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