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August 28, 2005

Never thought hanging up would be a thrill

Filed under: — brendan @ 21:22 GMT

For about three years, we’ve had a constant problem with our phone. Pick it up, make a call via OneSuite, and hang up. Pick up the line again, and OneSuite’s still there. Finally it’s fully hung up, and you take it off the hook, dialing 1-800- but change your mind…hang up. Pick it up, it’s still there waiting for a call. Call voice mail, hang up, but it’s still there when you pick it back up. Gahhhhh. This was incessant.

Meanwhile, we were using a few wireless phones in our house, though we found it would sometimes be making an amazing crackling sound while we’re doing the call. It would be worse if the microwave was going, but under normal circumstances it was fairly frequent. Our friend John, when Elana described the problem to him, pointed out that our wireless phones were operating at the same frequency as our barrage of wireless networking equipment: 2.4GHz. D’oh!

Elana went looking around and discovered a sale on 5.8GHz wireless phones. We’ve gotten a base and a few handsets, replaced everything, and the noise was gone!

But around the same time, we weren’t able to receive calls with any reliability at all. Everyone was telling us calling our number went straight to the voicemail hosted by our phone company. Sometimes we’d hear the phone ring and be excited, thinking it had somehow corrected itself. But no such luck. And still we can’t make it actually hang up properly. I went outside to the box on our house where the phone line comes in from the pole on the street, opened it up, and plugged the phone in there. No problem, worked perfectly. So it’s something inside our house causing all of the headaches.

Today, I decided to attack the problem and try to figure out what was going on. A journey down into the basement where the line is sent from the box outside, then into the garage where the wires split up, and finally to the different phone jacks. Nothing obvious in the wiring.

I cut a phone cable and hooked it up to my little Radio Shack digital multimeter turned on to measure DC voltage. It said it was 48.4 VDC for exactly 23 seconds, then it dropped to 6.44 for not even one second and then up to 9.5 VDC for 30 seconds. Back to 48.4 (phone on-hook), wait 23 seconds, etc etc. When it was holding at 48.4 for a moment I picked up the phone, and the multimeter reported 6.44. Hung up, and it held at 9.5 for about 30 seconds. Then I watched, and it repeated the pattern over and over.

I first thought it was the base for our new wireless phones that caused it, so I unplugged it from the jack in the wall. Voila, the multimeter held at 48.4 VDC for a few minutes. Out of curiosity, I plugged it back in and unplugged the phone line that fed both our Hughes GCEB0 receiver and our TiVo (Series2, running the not-hacked version of their stuff—the hacked version’s disk died, sigh). The problem went away! No more repeated pickups then unsuccessful hangups.

I made the line just plug into the Hughes satellite receiver, not the TiVo, and it kept happening. Plugged in just the TiVo, not the receiver, and it stopped. So the receiver box has some sort of an issue with anything taking the phone off-hook. The moment it’s taken off-hook, the receiver wants to keep it almost off-hook—at this odd 9.5 VDC level—for about 30 seconds. I’ve not yet found anything to explain these three numbers (48.4 on-hook, 6.44 off-hook, and 9.5 right after it’s been put on-hook ).

But that’s okay! Now the phone’s just plugged into the TiVo (more later about why I’m still fighting to make the TiVo go over our net connection instead of it making never-for-free dialup calls), and we’ll wait for the satellite receiver to care that it’s not got a phone line to use. We don’t to Pay-Per-View on it, so hopefully it’ll go for a nice long time before it complains.

Before I finish, I’ve got to point folks at the Phone Man’s Home Phone Wiring Advice Page. It was a great source of information about the various DC voltage levels involved in a phone being on-hook versus off-hook, along with lots of other goodies and great tips. If you’ve got even the slightest urges to take a DIY approach to handling your home phone system, that page will give you everything you need to set up a second line, and a new jack, or even things far more complex.

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