What is tone/pulse? Definition and usage

LAST UPDATE: July 26th, 2017


“Tone/pulse” is a selection between touch tone dialing and pulse dialing.

It is sometimes listed on a fax machine or phone as a switch with an option for “T” or “P.”


Almost all telephone networks in the world today use tone dialing. It is the method of pressing buttons and those buttons make a sound. We are not aware of any telephone networks that are not able to use tone dialing (if there are any, we’d love to hear about them).

Pulse dialing is the system used on old rotary phones. While the format is widely supported by traditional landline phone networks, many VoIP phone systems no longer support the format. Many telephone menus (“press 1 for service, press 2 for sales,” etc.) will not be able to understand signals from a pulse phone.

Which one to use?

Any fax or phone with a “tone/pulse” selector should be set to “tone” unless the phone network is rotary (pulse) only.

With some phone networks, there is an additional fee for touch-tone service. For example, Bell Canada (one of the largest telephone companies in Canada) only removed their touch-tone fee in 2015. With this fee, some people opt to use pulse dialing on their phones to try to avoid the touch-tone fee.

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