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Cordless phones: what the DECT?

If you’re buying a new home phone, then the chances are you’ll want a cordless phone, maybe with several handsets and a hands-free or speakerphone option.

Almost all cordless phones sold in the UK today use DECT a European standard for digital cordless phones, now used around the world.

Siemens Gigaset DECT phone

All DECT phones connect to a base station that usually doubles as a battery charger, and you can use several handsets with one base-station. They usually have LCD displays, built-in phone-books and the base station often hosts an answering machine.

It’s possible to combine DECT phones from different manufacturers, and the base station can also be built into a wireless internet router like BT’s Home Hub.

Increasingly, DECT phones can also be used for making internet phone calls and as walkie-talkies to other handsets. It’s likely that mobile phones may be able to double as DECT phones in the near future.

Panasonic KX-TG8621GMWhat is DECT?

The Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications standard was developed in the 1990s as a common standard for cordless phones across Europe. The aim was to make phones cheaper and encourage competition between manufacturers consumers being forced to worry about competing systems that wouldn’t work together.

With some tweaks, it’s been adopted around the world and continues to be developed, with the latest version slashing power consumption. As well as making DECT phones smaller, cheaper and lighter, this will make it possible to add DECT to mobile phones without draining their batteries.

For the techies, DECT uses a small slice of radio from 1880–1900MHz that’s not shared with anything else, so there’s little chance of interference from other devices, and DECT phones don’t interfere with each other. You can use a European DECT phone anywhere in the world except the USA, and vice-versa.

How much?

Single-handset cordless phones start at about £10, with answer-phone versions from about £20. Twin-handset packs with an answer-phones start at about £20, with triple sets from £35 and four-phone packs from about £50.

What to look for

Even a basic DECT phone will have some features to make your life easier:

  • Address book: You’ll be able to store just 20 numbers in a low-end phone, but more than 200 in a high-end phone.
  • Battery life: A standby life of 100 hours and talk time of seven hours is OK in a cheap phone, and a warning when you’re low on power.
  • Caller ID: Even the most simple phones should be able to show you who’d calling, although many phone service providers charge extra for this service.
  • LCD display: A simple black-and-white display will hopefully have battery and signal meters

If you’re upgrading to something better, advanced features include:  

  • Range extender: You can buy a repeater to boost the range and quality of your calls in a large home or office.
  • Speed dial: Assign your favourite phone numbers to different keys to make instant calls.
  • Colour display: A colour screen, backlit display and night mode can all make the phone easier to read and less intrusive.
  • SIM card reader: Copy contacts to and from your mobile phone’s SIM card.
  • SMS messaging: Send text messages from your landline – but beware – landline operators may charge steeply for this useful service.
  • Volume controls: Change the volume of the call and the phone’s ringtone so you can hear them more easily.
  • Speakerphone: Make hands-free calls while you do something else, or share the conversation with another person using a built-in loudspeaker and microphone.
  • Big buttons: Elderly and disabled users may find big buttons especially useful.
  • VOIP: Some DECT phones can connect to your broadband router via WiFi or a cable to the base station, so you can make cheaper phone calls over the internet.  

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