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In Telecommunications, what is Crosstalk?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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In electronics terms, crosstalk occurs when unwanted speech or signal noise manifests in a communication. A common example is hearing pieces of other people's conversations on a telephone, or picking up part of a broadcast from a different radio station when listening to a radio show. Crosstalk is caused by an inadvertent coupling of transmission media, such as radio frequencies or physical telephone wires, and technicians take steps to avoid it. The term is also used more generally to refer to incidental or unimportant conversation.

In the case of telecommunications devices connected with physical wiring, crosstalk happens whenever these wires cross. This causes a disturbance in the signal, which manifests in the ear of the listener as signal noise or fragments of speech. Insulating wiring and tightly twisting it can greatly reduce this, although wiring will ultimately decay as it ages, necessitating repairs. If a consumer experiences crosstalk on a device such as a telephone, it should be reported to the phone company so that they can address the problem.

Communications which travel from place via wave signals, such as radios, can also be victims of crosstalk. Frequencies that are too close to one another can result in noise, and electromagnetic interference from another source can also cause a disturbance in the signal. In communications systems such as two-way radios, it is not uncommon to experience crosstalk from people who are transmitting in the same frequency. In the case of official frequencies, such as police radios, a dispatcher or central control may request that the unauthorized person using the frequency switch to another one.

Digital devices can also experience crosstalk due to hiccups in their mechanisms. Neighboring connections may be loose or unsound, causing this problem, or the system may experience a power surge or overload that causes it. Digital devices that handle high volumes of material can also overheat or generate a lot of noise in their regular operations, which will translate into crosstalk for users. Technicians attempt to maintain signal integrity so that this does not happen, but a digital system can fail under stress, just like any other system.

Generally, crosstalk or electrical interference are undesired in telecommunications. For this reason, the telecommunications industry invests time and money in reducing the probability of this issue on their systems. Electrical and audio engineers may choose to specialize in addressing the problem so that they can obtain profitable jobs in the telecommunications industry, as there is always a need for skilled engineers to work on telecommunications systems.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By orangey03 — On Apr 29, 2012

@shell4life – This type of crosstalk can have a profound effect on a paranoid individual. My good friend has some issues with conspiracy theories and paranoia, and if he hears another radio conversation cut into one that he is listening to, he thinks that a message is being sent straight to him.

He was listening to a talk show about Hollywood stars one morning when the station experienced crosstalk. He suddenly heard snippets and phrases from another channel, and a man was talking about how wise it would be to invest in gold and silver.

My friend was convinced that this was meant for him, and he sold one of his expensive guitars so that he could invest in gold and silver. I suppose that is relatively harmless, but I wonder what would have happened had he heard a man saying it would be wise to join a cult or go skydiving?

By shell4life — On Apr 28, 2012

Crosstalk on the radio can be so annoying. I live in an area where the signal from one of my favorite stations varies greatly from day to day, and I often hear crosstalk while listening to it.

Sometimes, adjusting the antenna helps, but other times, there is nothing I can do but turn it off. If I'm in my car, sometimes I will hear a song I love coming through weakly on the station, but when I get to the bottom of a hill, another song from a different station will cut in.

They will cut back and forth as I drive, and this stresses me out, so I usually just change the channel. I really wish they had a stronger signal.

By OeKc05 — On Apr 27, 2012

I used to hear pieces of other people's conversations when I was young and my parents had a land line. Sometimes, I could hear them as clearly as the person I was trying to talk to, and I would listen for as long as I could, intrigued by these strangers.

However, since I have been using a cellphone, I haven't heard any crosstalk at all. Do people on cellphones frequently experience crosstalk, or is it mostly a land line thing?

It could be that it hasn't happened because I live in a remote area, and I rarely visit crowded places where other cellphone users are talking. I'm just curious about whether this is a problem in big cities.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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