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Handset is a term associated with telephones and may be used in a different sense depending upon the type of phone. Originally the term was used to describe the part of a telephone that was to be held to the ear to hear the other party in the early candlestick models of telephones. Now it is can be used to refer to any part of a wired or wireless phone that can be held by hand and may refer to the actual phone itself in the case of mobile phones.
Handsets are also known as receivers.
A handset is essentially any part of the phone that is held in one's hand and has parts for listening and/or talking into. A headset is different from a handset, as it is generally secured to a person's head, like earbuds and headphones.
The two major parts of a typical handset are the transmitter and receiver. The transmitter is a microphone that transmits the speaker’s voice and the receiver outputs the audio signals from the phone.
In the very early models of telephone, the handset only incorporated a receiver. These were called receiver-only handsets and were used in candlestick telephones.
Since the 1920s, the transmitter and receiver were combined into a single handset device to be held in the hand for speaking and hearing at the same time. This type of handset with transmitter and receiver was called the transceiver. Originally, the handsets were wired to the telephone base unit. However, with the introduction of cordless telephones, some handsets can be detached and used without any wired connection to the base unit. These cordless handsets are radio transceivers and they use radio waves to connect to the base unit.
In case of the cell phones, the entire phone acts as a radio transceiver and can also be referred to as a handset.