In the mid-1990s, our family got a cheap (I assume, since we weren't rich) but at least brand new telephone which either had two wireless "units", or one (my memory is a bit foggy on this detail), but the point is that, you could take the unit(s) with you outdoors, for example sitting in the garden, even going as far as into a nearby store (150 meters away), and it would still work to talk into, somehow communicating with the base unit in our house.

It also allowed you to press a "local call" button which would skip the telephone network and just ring the other unit (or the base unit; I'm unclear on this) directly, then working as two-way walkie-talkie. This was extremely cool to avoid having to shout that dinner is ready all the time. Mum would just press the "local call" button on the base unit next to the kitchen, and we'd get a signal. (Really, we didn't even need to pick up the phone -- the signal itself was enough to know that we were supposed to come in or come upstairs.)

I find this concept very fascinating, but I'm confused about how it technically worked:

  1. How was it able to work so far away from the house? What if others also had the same model/make phone? Would we not get each others' signals then?
  2. Was this encrypted in any way, or was it just blasting out all of our "private" conversations all over the place whenever we were talking into its units? I don't remember it coming with any warning note saying something like: "Please note that anyone can listen to your conversations with a radio receiver!"
  3. Was the "local call" feature different in any way from the normal wireless mode between the unit(s) and the base unit (which of course was connected to the telephone network by wire)?

I cannot remember which brand or model, unfortunately, but I suspect it's as it usually is: it was not some unique invention but rather one of countless clones of some original invention that numerous companies created with "cookie cutter" blueprints.

  • $\begingroup$ Which country? As some countries are in front, or behind, others... Have a look at engineering.stackexchange.com/q/33223/10902 $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 21:13
  • $\begingroup$ If you were in Europe, the phone would likely to be a DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecoms) $\endgroup$
    – D Duck
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ I remember, thirty years ago, chatting up someone who had given me her number. I was using our 900MHz cordless phone. During the conversation I gave her my number, and immediately got a call from someone unknown who made jokes about the flirty phone conversation I had been having :) Ah, well :) $\endgroup$
    – bitsmack
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 22:25

1 Answer 1


1 & 3: I imagine it had some sort of short-wave radio capability, much like a walkie talkie. This would communicate to your "base" and transmit the rest of the call over the phone line for non-local calls. If someone was using the same frequency channel you'd probably get each other's calls.

2: I highly doubt it was encrypted in any way. Considering encryption was not important to most residential phone customers in the 90's I would imagine manufacturers wouldn't bother adding any extra features if there's no return on investment.

I'm also not a telecom/electrical engineer so all of this could be completely wrong, just solutions that make sense to me.

  • $\begingroup$ With a 150-meter range, it almost certainly had some form of scrambling just to keep two nearby systems from interfering with each other. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 22:45

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