How do cordless phones work?

Man with grey hair holding a cordless phone up to his right ear while facing off camera.
(Image credit: Getty)

Although they're less common than before, landlines still have a place within the home, so how do cordless phones work? While mobile phones are now a key staple of modern life, there are still plenty of reasons to maintain a cordless phone in your property – and that doesn’t have to come at the cost of convenience or clever tech found within.

Landlines, even cordless ones, tend to offer more consistent call quality, plus it’s always nice to have a number tied to an address for business inquiries. You’ll also never miss an important call through a lack of signal coverage, too.

If you’re looking to buy one of the best cordless phones, or are just curious about the one you already own, you may be wondering just how the technology inside works. Wonder no more, as we’ve got the answers.

How does a cordless phone work? 

At the most basic level, your phone handset is communicating with the included base station via a radio connection, while the base station receives power and access to your landline network by being plugged into the wall.

In a lot of ways, it’s working a little like a two-way radio, so your landline signal is pushed to the handset’s earpiece, while your voice is transmitted back via the mouthpiece. As far as your landline is concerned, though, it’s no different from a corded phone.

That makes the base station invaluable, plus it’ll charge your handset when you set it down, too.

What is VoIP? 

Many cordless phones will work through VoIP, which means they offer “Voice over Internet Protocol”.

Put simply, these phones will skip your landline entirely and connect to your Wi-Fi or internet for calls instead. VoIP converts voices into a digital signal and is powered by a VoIP server.

While many VoIP services are free, they may offer limits on calls, or charge additional fees for the likes of additional features like video calls.

What is DECT? 

Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications, or DECT, is essentially a unified standard for cordless phones that applies internationally.

DECT phones will offer a series of standard features, like a caller display, a call-waiting indicator (so you know if someone is ringing while you’re on the phone), and a speakerphone. 

They’ll also aim to offer 50m of indoor coverage or 300m outside. The difference is down to the walls within your home interfering with the signal.

VoIP vs DECT - which is better? 

VoIP and DECT are not mutually exclusive, since DECT phones can be used for VoIP.

As mentioned earlier, VoIP phones are transferring your voice as data, while DECT is designed for voice. That can mean VoIP offers a lower quality call, simply because it’s not as specially designed for the purpose of calls as a DECT phone.

VoIP handsets may need to be charged more often, too, because data transfer is constant – while a DECT device is only active as long as you’re on a call.

DECT is also arguably more secure, because it uses 64-bit encryption, but VoIP is a little more flexible in that your service will likely offer ad hoc bonuses like conference calls, or connecting to a business line from home – ideal for remote working.

Can you make mobile calls from a cordless phone? 

Some phones will let you transfer your mobile phone contacts to a home phone, meaning you can make calls from it without needing to re-enter an endless stream of phone numbers. 

This is done through a technology called Link2Mobile which is available on certain cordless phones. This works by connecting your mobile device to your cordless phone via Bluetooth, outputting call audio via the receiver like your Bluetooth headphones would do, while receiving your voice through the handset, too.

You can also set up the option to have mobile calls relayed to your home phone. That can be handy if your phone is out of battery, or if you have poor cellphone reception in your home or office.

This can also lead to increased call quality; it’s easy to forget that mobile phones have so much technology packed inside of them that being an actual phone is almost secondary, while having a cordless phone handset that’s usually a little thicker than your mobile can allow for a better speaker to be included in the earpiece. 

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Lloyd Coombes
Customer Advisor, Computing

Lloyd Coombes is Top Ten Reviews' Computing Customer Advisor, and a freelance writer with a specialism in tech, gaming, and fitness. Since starting out as a blogger, he’s written for sites like IGN, TechRadar, and more.

An expert on all things Apple ever since he got a second-hand iMac, Lloyd can regularly be found testing software on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and Mac — when he’s not testing the platforms themselves, that is. He’s also’s Games Editor, and a podcaster.

When he’s not writing, you can probably find him running after his son, playing Destiny 2, or at the gym.