Learn about the different kinds of Pay Phones

LEC Phones

LEC stands for Local Exchange Company and it means the local phone company in a given area. LECs mostly use “dumb” pay phones since they can also easily provide a special coin line to control the pay phone with. Lately, many LECs have started using “smart” phones like COCOT companies have always used to try and provide better phone service with better rates than AT&T charges on regular coin lines. The following are descriptions of the most common phones used by LECs.


Fortress” is actually a nickname for the single-slot pay phone developed by the Bell System in the late 1960’s. The name now applies to any style of single-slot, coin line controlled pay phone. There are 3 main variations of the “fortress” pay phone, the original Western Electric model, used only by Bell System companies, the Automatic Electric (GTE) model, used by GTE (Verizon) and many independent companies, and the Northern Electric (Nortel) Centurion model, used by Canadian companies and by some USA independent companies as well. Please see the pictures page for pictures of these models of “fortress” pay phones. Although the phones look quite different, they all operate the same way. Fortresses require a special coin line to operate properly. For local calls, the phone counts up the money until the local rate has been deposited. When a sufficient deposit is made, the pay phone completes a path to ground so that the phone will pass the coin ground test. After a phone number is dialed, the central office conducts the coin ground test, which consists of sending an electrical current to the pay phone and measuring the resistance to ground. If the resistance is infinite, the call is conisdered unpaid and routed to a recording telling the caller to hang up and pay before dialing again. If the resistance is around 1000Ω or less, the call is considered paid and it is put through.

The nonpayment recording sounds like this:

Coin tones do not have any effect on local calls. They only apply to long distance calls. A long distance call on a “fortress” pay phone gets transferred to the ACTS system which listens for coin tones to determine if the call is paid for.

If you don’t know what a coin tone sounds like, listen to it:

Most long distance calls go to AT&T’s ACTS system which charges extremely high rates for coin paid calls. AT&T has recently announced that they are discontinuing ACTS service due to lack of use. Regional Bell companies (RBOCs) and the GTE half of Verizon have their own ACTS systems for intralata calls from their pay phones. Rates are slightly lower than AT&T’s. Some phone companies are installing COCOT type phones on coin lines to route long distance away from ACTS to offer lower rates and compete with COCOTs. Coin collection and refunding are controlled by 130 volt DC electrical pulses that get sent to the phone line after a call has ended. Coin collect is positve 130 volts, and coin refund is negative 130 volts.


Millenium Pay Phone

Millenium Pay Phone

Nortel originally developed the Millennium pay phone, but recently, that product division was sold to QuorTech. It has a digital display and it has a card slot as well as a coin slot. Some models have card slots only and take no coins. There is also a desktop Millennium model, which has the same display as the pay phone style model, but looks more or less like a Nortel Meridian business phone. For some odd reason, Millennium pay phones do not have a coin return lever. The Millennium phone also has a second language option which changes the phone voice and and instruction readout. In the USA the second language is usually Spanish, while in Canada it’s French.

You can listen to the Millennium’s phone voice in all its available languages:


These phones operate on a normal phone line with the extra polarity reversal option. Polarity reversal is used to signal the phone that a call has been completed. When the call completion is detected, the pay phone will take your coins immediately, if you made the call using coins. It produces a fake dial tone, and has instructional voice prompts. If you do not pay enough money for your call, it tells you how much you have already paid, and how much you have left to pay. If you leave it off the hook for too long, it tells you to hang up and then start again. Because this phone has lots of advanced features, it requires an AC power source to operate fully. If the phone is unplugged from its power source, you can pick it up and get a real dial tone, but the keypad will only work if you dial phone numbers that phone is programmed to let you dial for free. Millennium phones, when they are connected to lines which allow incoming calls, have fairly loud ringers. A recording of the ringer is available for your listening pleasure:

Lately, many Millennium phones have been programmed to dial # when an incoming call in answered as an anti-fraud measure.

Phone 1

Phone 1

Phone 1

The Phone 1 type of phone has emerged as the result of AT&T discontinuing coin line long distance service. In order for existing LECs to continue offering that service, a new company called Phone 1 started up, providing a long distance network and special COCOT-like phones for LECs to use. Phone 1 type phones have a distinctive yellow handset so you can easily identify them. I have not used one myself as they mostly exist in Verizon-east and SBC areas of the country. They operate using the coin line for local calls, and using COCOT circuitry for placing long distance calls. A sound sample of this phone can be heard:

This phone may have a modem in it, but it does not answer when you call the telephone. Photo and sound sample provided by Strom Carlson.


A COCOT is a Customer Owned Coin Operated Telephone. It is a pay phone which is not owned or operated by the local phone company. Unlike phone company pay phones, COCOTs do not usually run on a coin line, they just run on a normal phone line. For a brief period some COCOT companies have were using ordinary fortress phones on coin lines, but they’re not around anymore. COCOT phones have computer-like circuitry in them and they handle all the billing for the calls placed on them. COCOT phone companies have always used this type of equipment, but lately, some local phone companies have started using COCOT equipment in their pay phone service.


Elcotel was a manufacturer of pay telephones. They were recently purchased by QuorTech. The QuorTech web site has been updated to mention the Elcotel product line. The most common Elcotel model in use is the Series 5. There is also the Olympian 5500, for use in Western Electric housings. There are also some discontinued models, such as the Gemini III, but those are rarely used anymore. A recording of a discontinued model is available below. Elcotel also has some new, advanced models, such as the Komet, which AT&T local services likes to use, and the Eclipse, which is used mostly in Canada. These new models have LCD displays and card slots, and use 2400 baud modems, which are faster than the 1200 baud modems used by the Series 5 and Olympian models. All Elcotel phones behave in the same way, and have similar sounding phone voices. Elcotel phones are line powered, and will not do anything if you leave them off hook too long. During the time you dial a call on this phone, the phone will slowly redial your number, and you can hear it faintly in the background. It will even do this while waiting for you to pay. These phones take your money at the end of a call, and if you don’t deposit enough money it will say “Please deposit an additional whatever.” They have human sounding phone voices that sound like this:

When you call them, you can have a lot of fun with them because you can dial numbers with your touch tone phone and the phone will think you are dialing out from it. You have to wait until the modem stops to do this though. I have recorded an example of dialing after the modem. I have also recorded a call where I don’t do anything. At the end of the call the phone just says its number and how much money it has. Some Elcotel phones are set up so that they will not say their phone number or how much money they have at the end. I have also made a recording of the ringer from most modern Elcotel phones available.

Ringer from newer Elcotel models
Call and do nothing
Call and dial numbers
Recording of a discontinued Elcotel model

Ernest Telecom

Ernest Telecom is another company that makes pay phones. One model that they make is the D1. I believe this model is now discontinued. This model has a fake dial tone. It is the only type of COCOT I have found that uses a fake dial tone. This phone also needs an AC power supply, it takes money during a call, and if you don’t pay enough it returns any money you have already paid and tells you to deposit the whole thing again. It also has an annoying sounding robotic voice that is often hard to understand. When you insert coins into this phone, it makes a short beep sound. The only recording I have for this phone is what happens when you call it and its modem answers:

Another model of pay phone made by Ernest Telecom is the D3. This model uses a real dial tone. This model is dependent entirely on line power, and it will shut down if the line voltage goes to zero for more than one second. It will not operate at all on a dead phone line. It also makes short beep sounds when you deposit coins into it. It will take your money at the end of a call, and it tell you to just deposit the difference if you haven’t paid enough. When you call it, the internal modem will answer after a while. Here is a recording if you feel like listening to one:


Intellicall has two models of COCOT pay phones in service today. The first model is the Ultratel. This model is no longer manufactured. It is one of the oldest type of COCOTS. Most of them have a really annoying, robotic sounding phone voice that says call prices and other dialing instructions:

This phone always wants you to dial a call the correct way and it will let you know if it thinks you are dialing incorrectly. Some models of this phone have a scrambled keypad, that is, when you dial a number, the tones you hear don’t match the numbers you push. After a call is completed, the scrambling ends. This phone requires an AC power source to function properly. During a call, it will take your money as soon as it thinks the call is answered. If it is left off the hook too long it will say “Please hang up and try again.” If you try to make a call on one of these things with out paying enough, it will refund any money you have already paid and tell you to deposit the full amount. Some of these phones have a newer voice that is more human-like and less annoying. It sounds like this:

If you were to call one of these phones from your own phone, it would eventually answer and say “Thank You” and then play some touch tones. Listen to such a call:

Also, if you call and a person answers, the phone will dial 111 when they pick up. This is supposed to be for fraud prevention, because sometimes a person could call it from the phone next to it and let it ring once and then hang up, and pick up again and get a dial tone and dial free calls with a tone dialer. Dialing 111 gets rid of that dialtone, but that kind of fraud is rare and having it on all incoming calls is just plain annoying. The ringers on Intellicall phones are cheap sounding, just a high pitched rapid chirp:

The current model Intellicall makes is their new Astratel II. This phone is similar to their Ultratel, but it has a few differences. It uses only the newer phone voice, It has a 14,400 baud modem, which is very fast for a pay phone. It runs only on phone line power. If you don’t deposit enough for a call, it will tell you to just deposit the difference. I’m not sure if it eats your money during a call or after it, but if you leave it off the hook too long it will generate a fake fast busy signal. It also dials 111 when a person answers an incoming call at the pay phone. The Astratel II phone supports multiple languages, which can be chosen by dialing #**. Some phones can be equipped with a card slot and a language select button, eliminating the need to dial #**. On the old Astratel I model, if an incoming call went unanswered, the phone itself will answer and play touch tones. It would not say “Thank You.” :

Those models are generally no longer in service, they were all upgraded to Astratel II. That model, will answer with a 14,400 baud modem. Hear the Astratel II modem:


Protel Pay Phone

Protel Pay Phone

Protel is yet another company that makes COCOT phone equipment. They have about 4 models of pay phones in widespread use. Most of these phone models are very similar with only slight differences between them. They are all line powered. When dialing a call on a Protel phone, the phone slowly dials each digit while it waits for you to finish dialing or finish paying. You may able to hear this in the background, but it is really quiet. These phones take your money at the end of the call. They will all just tell you to deposit more money if you haven’t paid enough. And if you leave them off the hook too long, they produce an interesting beeping sound. Some of these phones have credit card slots which accept many major credit cards. Most of these models have the extended *#6X series of interesting secret codes. *#61 is the code to hear the phone say its number. *#62 is the code to hear the software version and model numbers. *#65 sometimes discloses the phone company’s modem number. The phone company can program the phone to prevent you from using these codes. Where the Protel phone models differ is in their phone voices, internal phone modems and ringers as well.

Model 2000

This is the oldest model. It uses the old phone voice and has a 300 baud only modem:

The phone voice on this model seems to have more background noises and hums than other models. This modem seems extra sensitive to certain tones, so I recorded some calls to this type of phone. The first one is just a call where I don’t make any noise:

The second one is where I play certain tones that make the modem come back on again and again:

The model 2000 is the only phone without extended *#6 codes, so you are just stuck listening to the date and time of the last modem call to or from the phone company. When dialing a number on this phone, the touch tones seem to have a sort of grinding sound in them. Other Protel phones do not have this. A recording of the ringer from a Protel 2000 is now available:

Model 4000

This is the middle age model. Some of them have the old phone voice, while others have the new phone voice:

The modem supports 300 and 1200 baud, but it is extra sensitive to any noise at 300 baud. I have recorded 2 calls to this phone. In the first one, I remain silent:

In the second one, I belch at the pay phone, and it tries to connect to me at 300 baud:

A recording of the ringer from a Protel 4000 is now available:

This model of phone can run on a coin line. Coin line usage of this model is done by local phone companies such as Qwest, Verizon and Telus (in Canada) for their normal pay phone service. Sprint has also used this model of phone for normal pay phone service, but they don’t use coin lines, so it acts more like a COCOT.

Model 7000

This is Protel’s newest model of pay phone. It uses only the new phone voice, and it has the world’s weirdest modem. It uses some nonstandard mode of 1200 baud so you can’t call it with your normal modem. This model also supports coin line use. I have also recently noticed that if I call two of these phones at the same time, and have a conference call between them, the modems will try to connect to each other. I have recorded that for your listening pleasure as well as a normal call to one of these phones. Also I have recorded the ringer.

Model 8000

This is awfully similar to the model 4000. It has the same modem in it, and it uses either the old phone voice, the new phone voice, or the 2002 phone voice, which I have only heard at one phone and haven’t recorded yet. This phone is designed to fit inside a Western Electric pay phone housing so it can be used by Regional Bell Operating companies. One company that I have seen use this phone is Qwest, they have used it both on a coin line as a normal pay phone, and on a normal phone line as a true COCOT. Qwest’s usage of this kind of phone is rather limited when compared to BellSouth. During my recent travels to BellSouth territory, this was the only kind of phone BellSouth ever used. They are run on normal phone lines, not coin lines, regardless of whether BellSouth is the LEC in an area or not.

Other protels Protel also has some newer models with digital displays and card slots. Their basic card/display model, which was aimed at international markets, has an LCD display and six multipurpose buttons, which could be programmed as speed-dials or as language select buttons. Protel recently discontinued this model, which didn’t have a name. Their other advanced model is called the Ascension. It looks an awful lot like a Nortel Millennium phone, but it has a coin return button, and the coin slot is on the right. These models use the same 7000 model circuitry as standard COCOTs, so I don’t need to describe anything special about their operation.


G-Tel is a pay phone company which sells Protel-like pay phones. G-Tel sells the phones with model numbers different from Protel, but they appear to be really similar to Protel. One model, the CTR-201, is a phone that I finally encountered recently. It is a recycled, very old Protel model, with the very old phone voice, and no modem, which means all programming must be done at the phone. The other model, Stellar 310, sounds like a Protel model since it is programmed by ExpressNet software, which is made by Protel.

Other phones I just can’t figure out.
The phone models mentioned above are not a complete list of all COCOTS out there. Other models are curently in use which are probably made by manufacturers I have never heard of. Of all the unknown types out there, the most common one is one which has been found in Indiana, Michigan and Washington. This type is AC powered, has a robotic voice, and generally operates at a very slow pace. This type answers with a modem, but if you make the slightest noise, the modem stops, the pay phone makes a buzzing sound, and it lets you listen in on the surrounding area for a brief period of time. If you connect to the modem at 300 baud, it will display its phone number and ask you for a command. I have not gotten beyond that point. Some recordings of this phone are now available.

Call and do nothing
Call and make a noise

Another oddball phone is one I encountered only in Florida. It offers relaxed line control, where the digits you dial actually go onto the phone line until you get a complete number, then the phone hangs up the line and tells you to pay. If you pay before dialing, your call will go through when you finish dialing. The voice is human sounding. The phone seems to only be line powered. It has a very strange response when you call into it. It will play the touch tones 2,3, then go silent for a long time, and finally a 300 baud modem will come on in outgoing mode. I connected to the modem and it prompted me for a command but I didn’t get beyond that point.

ElJefeLearn about the different kinds of Pay Phones