Acoustic coupler

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In telecommunications, the term acoustic coupler has the following meanings:

The link is achieved through acoustic (sound) signals rather than through direct electrical connection.


History and applications

Prior to its breakup in 1982, Bell System's monopoly over telephony in the United States allowed the company to impose strict rules on how consumers could access their network. Customers were prohibited from connecting phones not made or sold by Bell to the network, and for a long time the phone itself was owned by the phone company and leased to customers. In many households, telephones were hard-wired to wall terminals before connectors like RJ11 and BS 6312 became standardised. The telephone network was essentially a closed system wholly controlled and owned by Bell end-to-end. Interconnection of outside phones or other terminal equipment to the telephone system was not allowed.

It was not until a landmark court ruling regarding the Hush-A-Phone in 1956 that the use of a phone attachment (by a third party vendor) was allowed for the first time; though AT&T's right to regulate any device connected to the telephone system was upheld by the courts, they were instructed to cease interference towards Hush-A-Phone users.[1] A second court decision in 1968 regarding the Carterphone further allowed any device not harmful to the system to be connected directly to the AT&T network. This decision enabled the proliferation of later innovations like answering machines, fax machines, and modems.

The earliest third-party terminal equipment, such as the Hush-A-Phone and the Carterphone, were all acoustically, rather than electrically, connected to the phone system. With the increased use of computing, acoustic couplers were used to connect early modems to the telephone network. Speeds were typically 300 bits per second, achieved by modulating a carrier at 300 baud. The practical upper limit for acoustic-coupled modems was 1200-baud, first made available in 1973 by Vadic and 1977 by AT&T. It became widespread in 1985 with advent of the Hayes Smartmodem 1200A. Such devices facilitated the creation of dial-up bulletin board systems, a forerunner of modern internet chat rooms, message boards, and e-mail.


Usually, a standard telephone handset was placed into a cradle that had been engineered to fit closely (by the use of rubber seals) around the microphone and earpiece of the handset. A modem would modulate a loudspeaker in the cup attached to the handset's microphone, and sound from the loudspeaker in the telephone handset's earpiece would be picked up by a microphone in the cup attached to the earpiece. In this way signals could be passed in both directions.

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