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A DTMF telephone keypad

Dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) signaling is used for telecommunication signaling over analog telephone lines in the voice-frequency band between telephone handsets and other communications devices and the switching center. The version of DTMF used for telephone tone dialing is known by the trademarked term Touch-Tone (canceled March 13, 1984), and is standardized by ITU-T Recommendation Q.23. It is also known in the UK as MF4. Synonyms include multifrequency pulsing and multifrequency signaling. Other multi-frequency systems are used for internal signaling internal within the telephone network.

As a method of in-band signaling, DTMF tones were also used by cable television broadcasters to indicate the start and stop times of local commercial insertion points during station breaks for the benefit of cable companies. Until better out-of-band signaling equipment was developed in the 1990s, fast, unacknowledged, and loud DTMF tone sequences could be heard during the commercial breaks of cable channels in the United States and elsewhere.



In the time preceding the development of DTMF, telephone systems employed a system commonly referred to as pulse (Dial Pulse or DP in the U.S.) or loop disconnect (LD) signaling to dial numbers, which functions by rapidly disconnecting and connecting the calling party's telephone line, similar to flicking a light switch on and off. The repeated connection and disconnection, as the dial spins, sounds like a series of clicks. The exchange equipment counts those clicks or dial pulses to determine the dialed number. Loop disconnect range was restricted by telegraphic distortion and other technical problems, and placing calls over longer distances required either operator assistance (operators used an earlier kind of multi-frequency dial) or the provision of subscriber trunk dialing equipment.

DTMF, is a method for instructing a telephone switching system of the telephone number to be dialed, or to issue commands to switching systems or related telephony equipment.

The DTMF dialing system traces its roots to a technique developed by Bell Labs in the 1940s called MF (Multi-Frequency) which was deployed within the AT&T telephone network to direct calls between switching facilities using in-band signaling. In the early 1960s, a derivative technique was offered by AT&T through its Bell System telephone companies as a "modern" way for network customers to place calls. In AT&Ts Compatibility Bulletin No. 105, AT&T described the product as "a method for pushbutton signaling from customer stations using the voice transmission path."

The consumer product was marketed by AT&T under the registered trade name Touch-Tone. Other vendors of compatible telephone equipment called this same system "Tone" dialing or "DTMF," or used their own registered trade names such as the "Digitone" of Northern Electric (now known as Nortel Networks).

The DTMF system uses eight different frequency signals transmitted in pairs to represent sixteen different numbers, symbols and letters - as detailed below.

#, *, A, B, C, and D

The engineers had envisioned phones being used to access computers, and surveyed a number of companies to see what they would need for this role. This led to the addition of the number sign (#, sometimes called 'octothorpe' or 'pound' in this context) and asterisk or "star" (*) keys as well as a group of keys for menu selection: A, B, C and D. In the end, the lettered keys were dropped from most phones, and it was many years before these keys became widely used for vertical service codes such as *67 in the United States and Canada to suppress caller ID.

Public payphones that accept credit cards use these additional codes to send the information from the magnetic strip.

The U.S. military also used the letters, relabeled, in their now defunct Autovon phone system[1]. Here they were used before dialing the phone in order to give some calls priority, cutting in over existing calls if need be. The idea was to allow important traffic to get through every time. The levels of priority available were Flash Override (A), Flash (B), Immediate (C), and Priority (D), with Flash Override being the highest priority. Pressing one of these keys gave your call priority, overriding other conversations on the network. Pressing C, Immediate, before dialing would make the switch first look for any free lines, and if all lines were in use, it would disconnect any non-priority calls, and then any priority calls. Flash Override will kick every other call off the trunks between the origin and destination. Consequently, it was limited to the White House Communications Agency.

Precedence dialing is still done on the military phone networks, but using number combinations (Example: Entering 93 before a number is a priority call) rather than the separate tones and the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service has superseded Autovon for any civilian priority telco access.

Problems listening to this file? See media help.

Present-day uses of the A, B, C and D keys on telephone networks are few, and exclusive to network control. For example, the A key is used on some networks to cycle through different carriers at will (thereby listening in on calls). Their use is probably prohibited by most carriers. The A, B, C and D tones are used in amateur radio phone patch and repeater operations to allow, among other uses, control of the repeater while connected to an active phone line.

DTMF tones are also used by some cable television networks and radio networks to signal the local cable company/network station to insert a local advertisement or station identification. These tones were often heard during a station ID preceding a local ad insert. Previously, terrestrial television stations also used DTMF tones to shut off and turn on remote transmitters.

DTMF signalling tones can also be heard at the start or end of some VHS (Video Home System) cassette tapes. Information on the master version of the video tape is encoded in the DTMF tone. The encoded tone provides information to automatic duplication machines, such as format, duration and volume levels, in order to replicate the original video as closely as possible.

DTMF tones are sometimes used in caller ID systems to transfer the caller ID information, however in the USA only Bell 202 modulated FSK signaling is used to transfer the data.

A DTMF can be heard on most Whelen Outdoor Warning systems.


1209 Hz on 697 Hz to make the 1 tone

The DTMF keypad is laid out in a 4×4 matrix, with each row representing a low frequency, and each column representing a high frequency. Pressing a single key (such as '1' ) will send a sinusoidal tone for each of the two frequencies (697 and 1209 hertz (Hz)). The original keypads had levers inside, so each button activated two contacts. The multiple tones are the reason for calling the system multifrequency. These tones are then decoded by the switching center to determine which key was pressed.

DTMF keypad frequencies (with sound clips)
1209 Hz 1336 Hz 1477 Hz 1633 Hz
697 Hz 1 2 3 A
770 Hz 4 5 6 B
852 Hz 7 8 9 C
941 Hz * 0 # D

Special tone frequencies

National telephone systems define additional tones to indicate the status of lines, equipment, or the result of calls with special tones. Such tones are standardized in each country and may consist of single or multiple frequencies. Most European countries use a single frequency, where the United States uses a dual frequency system, presented in the following table.

Event Low frequency High frequency
Busy signal 480 Hz 620 Hz
Ringback tone (US) 440 Hz 480 Hz
Dial tone 350 Hz 440 Hz

The tone frequencies, as defined by the Precise Tone Plan, are selected such that harmonics and intermodulation products will not cause an unreliable signal. No frequency is a multiple of another, the difference between any two frequencies does not equal any of the frequencies, and the sum of any two frequencies does not equal any of the frequencies. The frequencies were initially designed with a ratio of 21/19, which is slightly less than a whole tone. The frequencies may not vary more than ±1.8% from their nominal frequency, or the switching center will ignore the signal. The high frequencies may be the same volume or louder as the low frequencies when sent across the line. The loudness difference between the high and low frequencies can be as large as 3 decibels (dB) and is referred to as "twist." The minimum duration of the tone should be at least 70 ms, although in some countries and applications DTMF receivers must be able to reliably detect DTMF tones as short as 45ms.

As with other multi-frequency receivers, DTMF was originally decoded by tuned filter banks. Late in the 20th century most were replaced with digital signal processors. DTMF can be decoded using the Goertzel algorithm.

See also



Further reading

External links



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