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Analog vs Digital Phone Line: At a Glance

Analog telephone lines. Analog signals. Digital security. Digital PBX. Analog-to-digital adapters. What does it all mean? In the telecom world, understanding analog vs digital phone line isn't as simple as comparing one technology to another. It depends on what product—and in some cases, which product feature—you happen to be talking about.

Analog line at a glance

As a technology, analog is the process of taking an audio or video signal (in most cases, the human voice) and translating it into electronic pulses. Digital, on the other hand, is breaking the signal into a binary format where the audio or video data is represented by a series of "1"s and "0"s. Simple enough, when it's the device—analog or digital phone, fax, modem, or likewise—that does all the converting for you.

Is one technology better than the other? Analog technology has been around for decades. It's not that complicated of a concept, and it's inexpensive to use. That's why we can buy an analog telephone line for extremely cheap. The trouble is, analog signals have size limitations as to how much data they can carry. With our $20 phones and inexpensive TVs, we can only get so much.

Enter: digital

Digital technology breaks your voice signal into binary code—a series of 1s and 0s—transfers it to the other end, where another device (phone, modem or TV) takes all the numbers and reassembles them into the original signal. The beauty of digital is that it knows what it should be when it reaches the end of the transmission. That way, it can correct any errors that may have occurred in the data transfer. What does all that mean to you? Clarity. In most cases, you'll get distortion-free conversations and clearer TV pictures.

You'll get more, too. The nature of digital technology allows it to cram lots of those 1s and 0s together into the same space an analog line signal uses. Like your button-rich phone at work or your 200-plus digital cable service, that means more features can be crammed into the digital signal.

Compare your simple phone with one you may have at the office. Your phone at work is loaded with functions. As far as analog vs digital phone line, digital offers better clarity, but analog gives you richer quality.

When you're shopping in the telecom world, you often see products touted as "all digital." Or warnings such as "analog lines only." What does it mean? The analog vs digital phone line qualities vary a bit in definition depending on how they're implemented.

Distinguishing an analog vs digital phone line

Analog line, also referred to as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), support standard phones, fax machines, and modems. These are the lines typically found in small offices. Digital lines are found in large, corporate phone systems or cell phones.

How do you tell if the phone line is analog or digital? Look at the back of the telephone connected to it. If you see "complies with part 68, FCC Rules" and a Ringer Equivalence Number (REN), then the phone is an analog line.