What is (Touch) Tone Dialling?

Last Update: August 9th, 2021


“Tone” also known as “touch tone” dialing is the name given to phones that make a distinct beep when a keypad button is pressed.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition:

:  of, relating to, or being a telephone having push buttons that produce tones corresponding to numbers

Oxford Dictionaries definition:


1. (of a telephone) having push-buttons and generating tones to dial rather than pulses.

1.1 (of a service) accessed or controlled by the tones generated by touch-tone telephones.

‘touch-tone registration for Florida State University’



1. A touch-tone telephone.
1.1 A tone generated by a touch-tone telephone.


“Tone” dialing is often seen next to “pulse” (sometimes listed as “rotary,” “rotary/pulse,” or “pulse/rotary”) dialing, which emulates the ticking sound of rotary phones. Some phones and fax machines have the option to switch between tone and pulse.

Almost all of today’s phone systems are touch-tone phones. Rotary/pulse phones are still compatible with most traditional phone networks, however, are not compatible with many VoIP phone services.

The technology behind touch-tone is “dual-tone multi-frequency signaling,” or DTMF. Pressing a button on the keypad emits a pair of tones that can easily be heard by the phone system to route a call to the appropriate phone or fax number.

The term “touch tone” was registered as a trademark by AT&T in the 1950s.

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