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The goal of these wiki pages is to gather and arrange knowledge related to the use of payphones in the US back in a days, and how to bring them back to life. Knowledge database will be continuously updated, drawing from our own experiences, as well as insights from dedicated Facebook and Reddit groups focused on payphones. The primary issue we aim to address is the lack of a structured knowledge base. Existing websites are no longer kept up-to-date, and exploring information in social media groups can be challenging over time. Additionally, some content, such as manuals, tends to be repetitive or unhelpful, creating a false impression of having more information than there actually is.

We are actively seeking contributors for this project! If you're interested in contributing, please reach out to Peter: peter at telesfor dot org.

Classic vs. Smart payphones

Before the deregulation in 1984, payphones were considered “dumb” phones, not having any advanced electronics. The rate, charge and return of deposited coins were controlled by the central office, and they required a special “coin line” with specific features - a voltage of 130V was applied between Tip and Ground to charge or return the coin. Dumb phones were typically owned by local telecom companies.

Smart payphones were often referred as COCOT (Customer-Owned Coin Operated Telephones) as they were usually owned by independent companies. Since they typically had no access to the coin lines, phones were designed to work on a regular line, eliminating the need for interactions with the central office. They had rate tables and voice prompts controlled by a built in computer.

However, in the early 90s, some coin line phones were retrofitted with smart boards, operating either on a coin line or a regular B1 line. Most commonly used boards were Protel 4000/8000 and Elcotel Olympian. So the difference between “classic” and “COCOT” is really vague.

  • all three-slot payphones are “dumb” (classic, coin line) phones
  • single-slot payphones with coin return on the left side are usually dumb phones (so called “Western” housing), except those retrofitted with a smart board
  • single-slot payphones with coin return on the right hand side (GTE/Quadrum housing) are mostly COCOT / Smart, with the exception of GTE 120A/B/C (coin lever underneath the coin slot and usually a GTE logo on the housing). However, GTE housing was broadly used by COCOT manufacturers.
  • if there are stickers on the front with star-codes (*89, *11, etc) then the control board has been upgraded to a “smart” board

From the collector's point of view, preferences vary

  • Some collectors prefer coin-line phones as more authentic and they can work on a regular phone line without any modification. However, to fully experience coin collecting and refunding, a special line controller is required.
  • Others favor Smart payphones since they can work on a regular line and offer a complete experience with voice prompts and coin charging. However, programming them requires certain effort and specific hardware such as a modem, PBX, older computer, etc.

We are looking for:

  • Elcotel PNM DOS software (not the PNM plus running on Windows), Elcotel rate tool (rateutil)
  • AT&T Private Phone Plus software (called CoinSoft and CoinRates)
  • Intellicall software
  • Fortec 2000 booth
  • Protel 4000 manuals


Phone Booths and Payphones Group (Facebook)
The Payphone Appreciation Group (Facebook)
Reddit payphone group
Payphone411 - great resources, but doesn't seem to be maintained anymore. This site will be updated in the future (from the owner).
The Pay Phone Directory - another interesting website (G-TEL) - supplier of payphones and parts. Unfortunately, expensive shipping.

start.txt · Last modified: 2024/07/11 22:19 by admin

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