Introduction: How to Get Emergency Power From a Phone Line

Picture of How to Get Emergency Power From a Phone Line
What do you do if the power is out and you need to charge your cell phone to make an emergency phone call? Don’t worry. There are plenty of potential power sources all around you. One of them is the phone line. In this instructable, I am going to show you how you can use the phone line to power your small electronic such as your phone or other USB devices in an emergency.

Note: This project is intended for emergency situations only. Please be aware of applicable local laws regarding phone lines in your area. 

Step 1: Background Information: Power in the Phone Lines?

Picture of Background Information: Power in the Phone Lines?

You may have noticed that corded phones don't need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. That is because they get all the power that they need to operate directly from the phone line itself. The phone company sends this power directly to your house through a pair of dedicated wires that connect to your phone jack. When the phone is not in use, this is a constant DC signal (about 50-60 volts). When the phone rings, the signal is a 20 hertz AC signal (about 90 volts). When in use it is a modulated DC signal (between 6 and 12 volts). 

The phones lines even have power during a blackout in most cases. This is because the phone company maintains their own backup power system. Your phone lines may be powered even if you don’t have a land line service set up.


Step 2: Check the Phone Line With a Multimeter

Picture of Check the Phone Line With a Multimeter

Before you try to tap into the electricity in the phone line, you should check it with a multimeter to see what you are working with. 

Start by cutting open a phone cord and separating the internal wires. In most cases you will have one red wire and one green wire. Strip the insulation off the ends. Then plug the cord into a phone jack and use a multimeter to measure the output voltage. At my house, I measured an open-circuit (no load) voltage of 52 volts DC.

Then I hooked up various resistors to see what the output would be with different loads. I determined that the supply voltage isn't regulated. This means that the voltage changes depending on the resistance of the circuit that it is powering. After some calculating, I worked out that the base signal coming out of my phone jack pretty closely resembles a 52 Volt DC source with a 628 ohm internal resistance.

Basically this means that I can run a 12V circuit at 64mA, a 9V circuit at 68mA, or a 5V circuit at 75mA. This isn’t a lot. But it is enough to charge a cell phone.

Step 3: Construct a Simple Voltage Regulator Circuit

Picture of Construct a Simple Voltage Regulator Circuit

We know that the phone needs 5 volts in order to charge. But we don't know how much current it draws or it's equivalent load resistance. So we can't charge the cellphone directly from the phone line. We need to use a voltage regulator to bring the output of the phone line down to 5 volts and keep it there. A LM7805 5 volt regulator should work fine. 

To make this simple phone line adapter you will need the phone cord that we have been working with, the 5V voltage regulator and a USB connector cable with a female end. Just connect the red wire from the phone line to the first lead on the regulator and connect the green wire from the phone line to the second lead. Then connect the black wire from the USB cable to the second lead on the regulator and connect the red wire from the USB cable to the third lead on the regulator. If you can't solder the wires together (because the power is out), you can just wrap the wires around each lead. If you do this, you should bend the leads of the regulator away from each other. This will help you avoid accidentally crossing the wires.

This simple regulator circuit is able to safely convert the base phone signal into something that can be used to charge your phone. However, many voltage regulators are not able to handle the AC signal that they would receive if the phone rang. So if you are worried that you might receive a call while your regulator is hooked up to the phone line , then you may wish to add a diode between the red wire from the phone line and the first pin on the voltage regulator. This will protect your circuit from problems that may be caused by reverse polarity.


Step 4: Use Other Regulators for Other Output Voltages

Picture of Use Other Regulators for Other Output Voltages

A 7805 regulator will work if you need an output of 5 volts but other kinds of voltage of voltage regulators are also available. Other voltages in the 78xx series include 6V, 8V, 9V, 10V, 12V, 15V, 18V, and 24V. In addition to these fixed value regulators, there are also variable regulators that let you set the voltage level with the use of a few external components. One such variable voltage regulator is the LM317. These are what you would use if you needed a different output voltage.

Step 5: Finished Phone Line Adapter Tool

Picture of Finished Phone Line Adapter Tool

Plug the phone cord into the nearest phone jack. Then plug your phone and charging cable into the USB cable. Your phone should begin charging. In a few minutes, your phone should have enough power to make a call.

Comments

JoeU9 (author)2017-05-15

I think most people are missing the point, the phone lines carry power. This power in turn can be used to charge or power devices In In an emergency , Not everyone has a generator or a land line phone but they have a land line. You could rig up a light or lights.

frisbrob (author)2017-05-08

I guess I am just not understanding the real reason for going to all this trouble and cost. If you have a land line that works, which means you are paying for it, why do this? Just have an old land line phone hooked up or pull it out when it's needed and make the call, who cares about the stupid cell phone, just make sure it is one of the old ones that does not need to be plugged into a wall outlet to work. I don't even own a cell phone and my home is still on land line phones that work perfectly all the time. Here where I live Century Link is sending out flyers telling everybody not to only have a cell phone, get a land line again so that in case of emergency your not just depending on the cell phone. We depend on all this high tech wireless crap to much, some of the good old stuff is still better. In my opinion.

BrianS454 (author)2017-02-22

i thought it was cool

Treknology (author)2016-05-29

Firstly, I'm inclined to agree with many of the negative comments being made as one cannot guarantee exactly what voltage is coming down the line at any given time (e.g., an incoming ring signal), and that an average Voltage Regulator is not properly equipped to deal with higher voltages.

Secondly, while such a hack may work in an emergency, you may find that your cell phone is still useless because the power outage could have affected your local towers and you won't have a signal anyway.

I agree that if the landline is functional, have a standby "emergency" handset connected. In modern times, even if the line is officially "disconnected" it's still able to access "999", "000", "911", "0118 999 881 999 119 7253++" or whatever the emergency number is in your country.

++ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWc3WY3fuZU

electric guy (author)Treknology2016-05-31

power outages effect less then 2% of cell phones towers a year
they run off generators
mr

Treknology (author)electric guy2016-06-25

Living in a country where the idea of "sharing" towers is totally anti-corporate and having had zero service for a contiuous period exceeding 48 hours, I would still recommend having a cheap handset connected to the landline socket for emergency situations.

DBS3 (author)Treknology2016-11-23

Towers are "shared" all the time, albeit typically for renumeration to the tower's owner from other users.

Treknology (author)DBS32017-01-15

Australia has three tower carriers: Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. Vodafone initially leased time on Optus towers until it started building its own. Each carrier will lease bandwidth to other retailers, but refuse to share hardware. My phone is connected through Kogan which is carried by Vodafone. I cannot access anything via a Telstra or Optus tower. If I have no access to a Vodafone tower, I have remove the SIM to make an emergency call on either of the other carriers.

Sarah86 (author)electric guy2016-06-25

Maybe, but maybe you didn't know that a cell tower cannot handle more than 7 DS0 communication line simultaneous. So when everyone call, they drop the extra. Soo, basically, once 7 people are one the line, you'll get a busy signal from that cell tower.

RobertC2 (author)Sarah862016-08-31

Those are Analog numbers... Way more now since digital. You read an old article about cell towers maybe?

Sarah86 (author)RobertC22016-08-31

Everything is still analog. I won't get you a course of how radio wave are transmitted, but digital output cannot be send on a radio wave. A radio wave need to be alternating (AC) to be able to transmit. You can send a state of 0 and 1 put those will be represented by a corresponding analog wave (think MODEM, its digital from you computer to the modem, but analog after that). The only thing that allow us to have more than 7 call simultaneously is the coding. This coding allow multiple user on a single DS0 line, but you still cannot have more than 7 line active simultaneously. And no, I didn't read an article, it's my job. CTNS

DBS3 (author)Sarah862016-11-01

No offense but you should really stop putting out all this total
misinformation. Digital transmissions can absolutely positively be made
by radio and millions of them are everyday. You would be very hard pressed to find any analog "cell"
network in America anymore. They are all digital. If you can find one
try a really old scanner that has the cell frequencies unlocked. It still won't work because there are no analog cell networks to listen to.

Even cheap handheld 2-ways are going digital. Google DMR radio.

electric guy (author)Sarah862016-09-06

who are you?
cause you have no clue what your talking about
now a days the cell phone tower is digital go Google it or something
radio waves are not even analog anymore
neither tv signal
that's why after 2009 if u had a analog tv u had to get a special box to watch stuff on a antenna

DBS3 (author)electric guy2016-11-01

I don't know where sarah is. Must not be in the US. Is there even a single analog cell network left in America? It's all been digital for years.

electric guy (author)RobertC22016-09-05

no made may 2016

RobertC2 (author)electric guy2016-09-05

Huh?
_Oh, my doubts about outdated numbers was aimed at Sarah86, not your 2% statistic about the towers. I agree with you. ?

electric guy (author)RobertC22016-09-06

oh sorry ... I meant that was when I first saw this...
um I really don't think Sarah noes what she talking about

electric guy (author)Sarah862016-08-31

that actually is incorrect cause in my house we all have more than 8 cell phones and we are in the same house and we can all talk at once... excuse me but where did u here about that exactly?

Sarah86 (author)electric guy2016-08-31

CTNS, read comment below. And a tower can have more than one antenna set on different frequency. Different company can have different antenna.

Also, you just might pick up the signal from another cell tower.

electric guy (author)Sarah862016-09-06

and we all had at&t
and we were all calling each other and we were in the same house
go back to sewing or something

electric guy (author)Sarah862016-09-05

it's the only tower in the area u sure have a lot of excuses

Sarah86 (author)2016-05-31

This is illigal in most state accros the US and Canada. It is covered by the Computer Act.

electric guy (author)Sarah862016-08-31

it is illigeal but ice
I don't think it would really matter like if there were criminals outside and ur power was off
but actually most phone lines will be gone soon anyway because at&t is now doing the wireless home phone don't like it but it's a fact

Illegal under what law? A source please?

tankapotamus (author)Sarah862017-01-10

I think you are mistaken, please link a source

StephenB148 (author)Sarah862016-06-01

While that may be true in some States, I don't care. Say the power goes out and all my backups failed for whatever reason (including me not keeping batteries charged or new batteries that discharged due to sitting a long time) and a family member needs help and doing this hack gets me help, to save them, well screw the law. I'll deal with that when it happens. I seriously doubt you would be charged, and if so, then so be it.

Are you telling me you would let a family member or for that matter, ANY human die, because it is illegal where you live? If so, I guess you will have to answer to a higher power, if you believe in such things. I use simple common sense on these things, by weighing cost/reward. Here the cost is probably zero, to a fine of some sort. The reward is saving a life. Hmmm, which do I choose? I know my answer! What's your answer Sarah?

Have a wonderful day Sarah.

DBS3 (author)StephenB1482016-06-04

Assuming the same problem that took out the power didn't take out the telco lines that run on the same poles, probably all you are going to do is fry your phone the first time a call rings in. It's a lot less tolerant of that AC ringing voltage than you are. That's on top of all the other issues mentioned. If you can manage to have on hand what you need to do this so it actually works you can have on hand the right charging equipment for your phone if the power goes out. A car charger is obvious if you have a car. A 12 volt battery and small inverter is pretty easy too. If all that fails, maintain landline service and plug an actual landline phone into the telephone line since that's what it's supposed to work with in the first place. Basically if you are desperately searching for the stuff you need to do this hack without destroying your phone in the process, it's because you are already totally unprepared.

static (author)DBS32016-06-24

Even in most rural areas the phone lines are underground, and are well protected. Except for the occasional freack lighting strike that will find a path to under grounf cables In the event if the switching equipment see this as an off hook condition it will place a higher voltage dial tone signal on the line, no need to wait for someone to call that number

DBS3 (author)static2016-11-23

Phone lines are not necessarily underground in "most" areas. They are very frequently running at the lowest level on the same poles as the power lines. The fat insulated cable below the power lines on the poles is telco. They are underground in some areas and so are power lines but in many many places both are on poles just waiting for a tree to fall.

electric guy (author)StephenB1482016-08-31

I agree

Sarah86 (author)StephenB1482016-06-01

OK, I got your point, but if it's help you need, don't you think a simple wired telephone should be able to get the job done.

Don't get me wrong here, I knew a thing or two about survival and preparedness and one thing I know for sure is that if power fail because of an earthquake or even a high atmosphere nuke detonation, the power coming out of those line would be out too since the machine supplying it would probably get destroyed.

Don't believe that Los Angeles movie, in that scenario, most building are on the verge of collapsing, soo the wire are mostly cut.

qqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqq (author)2016-05-29

If you have a phone line, why not plug a landline into it?

It's illegal (in many countries) to interfere with the power supply on a telephone - the reason you get a power supply provided is for use in emergency situations when there is no power.

What's a land line??? ??

TinkerDoge (author)DarwinS12016-12-03

really?

some people don't have land line phones anymore

gmhoovler (author)2016-05-31

This is a neat hack and hacks are exactly that - often a bit shady, reusing things in ways they shouldn't be used. I hadn't thought of this but it may serve me well in te zombie apocalypse, or after Isis invades, and we need emergency power and ethics and safety are out the window. I'm in favor of sharing ideas, period!

TinkerDoge (author)gmhoovler2016-12-03

zombie apocalypse? Who's gonna run the generators for the phone company?

ElectroFrank (author)2013-05-09

1) If the phone line is powered, you can make the emergency call on it.
     ( As several other people have said.)

2) This is dangerous. Fifty volts is where volts have already started getting dangerous.

3) I am an electronic technician, and I would never do this.

4) You can keep a spare charged phone battery to use when the first is flat. (As I do.)

5) You can have a second phone charger in my car. (As I do.)

6) You can have a USB cable to charge your phone from your laptop. (As I do.)

7) What happens if your phone hack prevents some of your neighbours from making emergency calls on their landlines ?    Do you want to be responsible for someone's death, just because you are too mean and selfish to take reasonable sensible LEGAL precautions for power cuts like everyone else does ?

8) DO NOT encourage people to do dangerous illegal things.   If they do, and they suffer for it, you share the responsibility.   (But I'm sure you will deny everything.)

DBS3 (author)ElectroFrank2015-11-05

"

7) What happens if your phone hack prevents some of your neighbours from
making emergency calls on their landlines ? Do you want to be
responsible for someone's death, just because you are too mean and
selfish to take reasonable sensible LEGAL precautions for power cuts
like everyone else does ?"

If it really worked this way a dead short which is not all that uncommon occurrence, on an individual line would knock out other lines since the short draws 100% of available power to the shorted line. Fortunately, it doesn't work this way. The only possible problem would be on a "party" line and I don't know anyone who has had one of those since the early eighties.

ScottW24 (author)DBS32016-05-31

As a friend of mine just pointed out - when the power is out, the phone company lines are running on batteries. So this suggestion is to use someone else's batteries because you were too cheap or too stupid to buy your own in advance. Plus, you are then draining the phone company's back-up batteries. Which means, yes it can effect your neighbor's ability to make an emergency call.

DBS3 (author)ScottW242016-11-01

I think most telcos probably have generator power to back up any battery banks they use in case of long term outage. That said practically I don't see the point when you could use a car charger or some other far more reliable method especially since in many places the POTS lines run on the same poles as power and may well be lying on the ground next to the power lines. That was the case where I am not long ago. Bother power and POTS were 100% out of action.

Gadget93 (author)DBS32016-05-31

I liked what you said thus i just paraphrased you.

AaronP91 (author)ElectroFrank2016-09-11

The static electricity that zaps you when you walk along the carpet... is quite a bit higher than 50volts. I believe in the thousands!?

It is the current that is dangerous. I've zapped myself on household current (thankfully not thru the heart) and been fine.

A DC source will lock your body in a clench. AC can get you to lurch which could release the offending conductor.

This is of course not a good thing to do regularly... Interestingly enough the phone station uses batteries in a power outage. Then maybe generators after a bit.

We were told in training that it wasn't really bad to work on the wires while plugged in, but I get the feeling we should have.

If you wire it and insulate it properly then plug it in you'll be fine.

PCfreak (author)ElectroFrank2014-04-18

i too am a electronic tech...... and as my rule of thumb, 30 volts or above is dangerous

DBS3 (author)PCfreak2015-11-05

Electric fences run thousands of volts. Static electric shocks can be around 20,000 volts. Stun guns can produce upwards of 100,000 volts. It's not the voltage that kills you, it's the amperage. The voltage just determines whether or not the shock can make it through your skin. You would be vary hard pressed to electrocute yourself on a POTS line, absent some extraordinary occurrence like lightening strike.

travcoman45 (author)DBS32016-05-29

I agree. A lot of so called "electronic techs" on here that don't know much. The voltage is far less important then the amperage.

static (author)travcoman452016-06-25

You disply ignorance your self. The available current and the available current are of equal importance. Lethal current can't flow unless the voltage is high enough to overcome the resistance. There are two excellent videos on YouTube that illustrate how inane and dangerous the "its the amps that kill ,not the voltage" chant is. I suggest people look for them. I would list them here, but my bookmarks crashed and I yet to have to restore them all.

Sarah86 (author)static2016-08-31

Take a sausage, it's has similar propriety to your skin, put two nail on each end. Solder some wire on the nail and plug them on anything giving power. At about 30 volt, the sausage will smoke, by 120 volt it will burn. Don't try 240 unless you want to clean a sausage puree of your ceilling.

DBS3 (author)Sarah862016-09-01

A UL listed electric fence as commonly used for cattle is thousands of
volts. You won't get anything to smoke on it, nor does it instantly kill or BBQ the cattle. It's not the voltage that will quickly kill or burn you, it's the current. The voltage only determines if the charge can overcome the resistance to give you any noticeable shock at all. The last static electric shock you got was thousands of volts. Did you get any burns?

travcoman45 (author)static2016-06-25

Do not trust the great "University of Youtube". Careful your ignorance is showing.

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Bio: My name is Jason Poel Smith I am a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker ... More »
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