Shopping Tips PART ONE

What's the difference between wireless and cordless?

What about cordless range?

There’s often no technical difference between the two terms, but there may be a marketing difference.

► Expensive cordless phones are often called wireless phones.

► Some cellphone companies, like AT&T and Verizon, don’t like to say “cellular,” but prefer the term “wireless.”

► It’s common to hear about wireless computer networks, but never cordless computer networks.

Some cordless phone makers call their phones wireless, emulating the cellphone and computer companies, in an effort to make their cordless phones seem more exotic.

Wireless is the old British term for radio. That's logical because radio provides communications without wires. “Cable and Wireless” is an old British company that used both undersea cables and radio to provide telegraph service, and later phone service, between the widespread British colonies. It all seems kind of silly for modern American high-tech companies to use the old label.

There’s a lot of silly stuff in the cordless phone business.

First of all, cordless and wireless phones are not actually cordless, or wireless. The phone bases do need cords or wires to provide power and to connect to the phone line.

The silliest thing is probably the obsession with range. Numbers are very important to most human beings, especially men.

The male homo sapiens likes to know that his car has more horsepower, his stereo has more watts, his PC has more RAM, his cable TV box has more channels, and his TV has more inches than the guy's next door.

With cordless phones, range is thought to be the important number, even though it's usually unimportant.

Most people seldom take a cordless handset more than 30 feet from its base. 100 feet will reach the end of most back yards, and a football field is just 300 feet long. Yet lots of people ask for phones that can go a mile or more.

It's tough to find a cordless with that kind of CONSISTENT range. The EnGenius phones have the longest range of any cordless phone that can legally be used in the United States, and its range can be 1/2 mile to five miles or even more, depending on conditions.

That brings us to an important point. Back when gasoline was scarce (the first time, not because of Hurricane Katrina or the BP spill), lots of car commercials bragged about gas mileage, and then weaseled-out by stating that “your mileage may vary.”

It's that way with cordless phones, too. The advertised ranges are seldom equaled in the real world; and the same phone may behave very differently in two places or even in the same place on two different days.

You may hear about cordless phones that can reach 30 miles or more. They are illegal to use in the United States. If you buy one in another country and get caught using it back in the USA, you could pay a heavy fine and go to jail. Similarly, some of the phones that are legal to use in the U.S. are illegal in other countries because frequencies that are approved for phones here are used for other services elsewhere.

SOME BASIC SCIENCE: With all else being equal, radio transmissions with higher frequencies, have shorter range than lower frequencies.

That's why UHF (ultra high frequency) TV stations don't reach as far as VHF (very high frequency) TV stations.

FM stations (transmitting in the 88 - 108 megahertz band) don't reach as far as AM stations using the 540 - 1600 kilohertz band.

Don't believe advertising claims about 2.4GHz phones providing extra-long range, or the pimple-faced know-nothing kids at Rat Shack or Worst Buy who assume that higher numbers have to be better in every way.

Many phone makers now offer cordless phones that operate in the 5.8GHz band, and in the 1.9GHz. These new higher frequencies are not likely to provide any important performance advantages, but can avoid interference.

The 1.9GHz radio band is known as DECT or Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications. It started in Europe where it was known as Digital European Cordless Telecommunications. DECT operates at 18.8-19GHz in Europe, and 19.2-19.3MHz in the U.S.

What follows is what Avaya (which used to be known as Lucent, and AT&T) has to say about the differences between Cordless, Wireless, and DECT. Some of this is bull crap.

“A cordless telephone communicates with a base station connected to a fixed telephone landline. Cordless phones operate typically less than 300 feet from the base station, such as in and around the house.”

“A Wireless telephone (cell phone) is a hand-held two-way radio with built-in antennas. The phone transmits radio waves to a receiver at a nearby base station (cell tower). The base station then sends your call through the telephone network until it reaches the person you are calling.”

“A DECT telephone system enables a single base station to support multiple handsets. Additional handsets usually have a battery charger station, no need for additional telephone sockets nor additional transceivers. A DECT telephone bridges the once distinct line between cordless and wireless telephones by supporting cell handover between cordless and wireless base stations.”

What's the difference
between headsets
and headphones?

A lot of people seem to get headphones and headsets mixed up.

►Headphones have miniature speakers (also known as drivers and transducers and receivers and receiver elements) and are mainly used for listening to music. It's unusual to hear the word "headphone." The word almost always has an "s" at the end. It's a contraction for "pair of headphones," like "pants" is short for a "pair of pants" and "scissors is short for "pair of scissors."

►A Headset has miniature speakers (or a single speaker) plus a microphone (which is also a kind of transducer), and is used for listening and talking on the phone, computer, air traffic control console, etc.

►An earphone is a tiny speaker that fits in or on your ear, commonly used for listening to a portable radio.

►EarPhone® is a tiny ear-mounted speaker with a short microphone boom (sort of a mini headset), made by Jabra for phones.

►EarSet® is an all-in-the-ear speaker/microphone, also made by Jabra. Similar products from other companies are called ear buds.

►HeadPHONE is an advertising label that Panasonic uses for some phones that have headset jacks.

►A handset is the part of a phone that you hold in your hand. (Some people call it a receiver.) If the phone is a cellphone, the whole phone can be called a handset.