A ringtone or ring tone is the sound made by a telephone to indicate an incoming call or text message. Not literally a tone nor an actual (bell-like) ring any more, the term is most often used today to refer to customizable sounds used on mobile phones.
A phone "rings" when its network indicates an incoming call and the phone thus alerts the recipient. For landline telephones, the call signal can be an electric current generated by the switch or exchange to which the telephone is connected, which originally drove an electric bell. For mobile phones, the network sends the phone a message indicating an incoming call. The sound the caller hears is called the ringback tone, which is not necessarily directly related.
The electromagnetic bell system is still in widespread use. The ringing signal sent to a customer's telephone is 90 volts AC at a frequency of 20 hertz in North America. In Europe it is around 60–90 volts AC at a frequency of 25 hertz. Some non-Bell Company system party lines in the US used multiple frequencies (20/30/40 Hz, 22/33/44 Hz, etc.) to allow "selective" ringing.
While the sound produced is still called a "ring", more-recently manufactured telephones electronically produce a warbling, chirping, or other sound. Variation of the ring signal can be used to indicate characteristics of incoming calls (for example, rings with a shorter interval between them might be used to signal a call from a given number).
A ringing signal is an electric telephony signal that causes a telephone to alert the user to an incoming call. On a POTS interface, this signal is created by superimposing ringing voltage [90 volts AC at 20 Hz in the USA] atop the −48 VDC already on the line. This is done at the Central Office, or a neighborhood multiplexer called a "SLC" for Subscriber Line Carrier. (SLC is a trademark of Alcatel-Lucent, but is often used generically.)
This ring voltage came from various sources. In large Central Offices, there were 48VDC motor-driven generator sets for both ringing & other signals such as dial tone and busy signals. In smaller offices, a special Sub-Cycle magnetic oscillator was used. More recently, solid-state oscillators have replaced them.
Originally this voltage was used to trigger a high-impedance electromagnet to ring a bell on the phone. Fixed phones of the late 20th century and later detect this ringing current voltage and trigger a warbling tone electronically. Mobile phones have been fully digital since the early 1990s second-generation ("2G") devices, hence are signaled to ring as part of the protocol they use to communicate with the cell base stations.
In POTS switching systems, ringing is said to be "tripped" when the impedance of the line reduces to about 600 ohms when the telephone handset is lifted off the switch-hook. This signals that the telephone call has been answered, and the telephone exchange immediately removes the ringing signal from the line and connects the call. This is the source of the name of the problem called "ring-trip" or "pre-trip", which occurs when the ringing signal on the line encounters excessively low resistance between the conductors, which trips the ring before the subscriber's actual telephone has a chance to ring (for more than a very short time); this is common with wet connections and improperly installed lines.
The ringing pattern is known as ring cadence. This only applies to POTS fixed phones, where the high voltage ring signal is switched on and off to create the ringing pattern. In North America, the standard ring cadence is "2-4", or two seconds of ringing followed by four seconds of silence. In Australia and the UK, the standard ring cadence is 400 ms on, 200 ms off, 400 ms on, 2000 ms off. These patterns may vary from region to region, and other patterns are used in different countries around the world. Some central offices offer distinctive ring to identify which of multiple numbers on the same line is being called, a pattern once widely used on party line (telephony).
AT&T offered seven different gong combinations for the "C" type ringer found in the model 500 and 2500 landline telephone sets. These gongs provided "distinctive tones" for hearing-impaired customers and to make it possible to tell which phone was ringing when several phones were placed closely together. A "Bell Chime" was also offered, which could be set to chime like a doorbell or to ring like an ordinary phone.
While rings, ringers or ring signals or what might be viewed as the call signals which are the predecessors of ringtones date back to the beginnings of telephony, modern ringtones began to appear in the 1960s and have expanded into tunes and many customizable tones or melodies. Arguably the first ringtone (in the modern sense) appeared in the movie Our Man Flint in 1966, where the head of the secret government agency had a red phone that went directly to the President and rang with a distinctive musical ringtone (probably made by the sound effects crew using an early analog synthesizer).
Following a 1975 FCC ruling which permitted third-party devices to be connected to phone lines, manufacturers began to produce accessory telephone ringers which rang with electronic tones or melodies rather than mechanically. People also made their own ringers which used the chip from a musical greeting card to play a melody on the arrival of a call. One such ringer, described in a 1989 book, even features a toy dog which barks and wags its tail when a call arrives. Eventually, electronic telephone ringers became the norm. Some of these ringers produced a single tone, but others produced a sequence of two or three tones or a musical melody. Some novelty phones have a ringer to match, such as a duck that quacks or a car that honks its horn.
The first commercial mobile phone with customizable ring tones was the Japanese NTT DoCoMo Digital Mova N103 Hyper by NEC, released in May 1996. It had a few preset songs in MIDI format. In September 1996, IDO, the current au, sold Digital Minimo D319 by Denso. It was the first mobile phone where a user could input an original melody, rather than the preset songs. These phones proved to be popular in Japan: a book published in 1998 providing details about how to customize phones to play snippets of popular songs sold more than 3.5 million copies.
The first downloadable mobile ring tone service was created and delivered in Finland in 1998 when Radiolinja (a Finnish mobile operator now known as Elisa) started their service called Harmonium, invented by Vesa-Matti Pananen. Harmonium contained both tools for individuals to create monophonic ring tones and a mechanism to deliver them over-the-air (OTA) via SMS to a mobile handset. On November 1998, Digitalphone Groupe (SoftBank Mobile) started a similar service in Japan.
A ring tone maker allows a user to take a song from their personal music collection, select whatever section they like and send the file to their mobile phone. Files can be sent to the mobile phone by direct connection (e.g., USB cable), Bluetooth, text messaging, or e-mail.
Andy Clarke (whilst working for UK Phone Provider Orange) approached the UK's Mechanical Copyright Protection Society in 1998 and helped created the B5 Ringtone License. In 1999 Andy registered ringtone.net and setup what is believed to be the world's first "legal" ringtone business. Scott Memphis, leader singer of Sunday Morning Sanctuary, wrote a 2010 hit entitled, "Ringtones & Lullabies" inspired by with the B5 Ringtone Licensing of 1998.
Some providers allow users to create their own music tones, either with a "melody composer" or a sample/loop arranger (such as the MusicDJ in many Sony Ericsson phones). These often use encoding formats only available to one particular phone model or brand. Other formats, such as MIDI or MP3, are often supported; they must be downloaded to the phone before they can be used as a normal ring tone.
When someone buys a ringtone, an aggregator (company that sells ringtones) either creates their own tune or mixes together a pre-existing one. After the ringtone is created, it is put into a unique file format and sent to the person’s phone via SMS. If the company uses a pre-existing song, they must pay royalties to the person who owns the song. A significant portion goes to the cell phone provider.
In 2005 "SmashTheTones" (now "Mobile17"), became the first third-party solution to allow ring tone creation online without requiring downloadable software or a digital audio editor. Later, Apple’s iPhone allowed users to create a ringtone from any song purchased for the phone’s iTunes library but with some difficulties, including a 40-second limit, and the fact the file has to be an AAC format and whose name ended with the extension .m4r.
There are a variety of websites that let users make ring tones from digital music or other sound files; they upload directly to their mobile phone with no limit on the number of songs uploaded.
The fact that consumers are willing to pay up to $3 for ringtones has made "mobile music" a particularly profitable part of the music industry. Estimates vary: the Manhattan-based marketing and consulting firm Consect estimated ringtones generated $4 billion in worldwide sales in 2004. According to Fortune magazine, ring tones generated more than $2 billion in worldwide sales during 2005. The rise of sound files also contributed to the popularization of ringtones. In 2003 for example, the Japanese ringtone market, which alone was worth US $900 million, experienced US $66.4 million worth of sound file ringtone sales. Also in 2003, the global ringtone industry was worth somewhere between US $2.5 and US $3.5 billion. In 2009, the research firm SNL Kagan estimated that sales of ringtones in the United States peaked at $714 million in 2007. SNL Kagan estimated U.S. sales in 2008 declined to $541 million, due in part to consumers having learned how to create their own ringtones.
Types of ringtones
- The original ringtones play only one note at a time.
- A polyphonic ring tone can consist of several notes at a time. The first polyphonic ring tones used sequenced recording methods such as MIDI. Such recordings specify what synthetic instrument should play a note at a given time, and the actual instrument sound is dependent upon the playback device. Later, synthesized instruments could be included along with the composition data, which allowed for more varied sounds beyond the built-in sound bank of each phone.
- A truetone (also known as "realtone", "mastertone", "superphonic ringtone" or "audio recording") is simply an audio recording, typically in a common format such as MP3 or AAC. Truetones, which are often excerpts from songs, have become popular as ring tones. The first truetone service was started by au on December 2002. "My Gift to You" by Chemistry was the first song to be distributed as a truetone.
- Sing tone
- A "sing tone" is a ring tone created in karaoke style, combining a user’s recorded voice (adjusted to be both in time and in tune) with a backing track.
Ring tone encoding formats
- 3GP: A multimedia container format that can be used for a video ringtone. Defined by the Third Generation Partnership Project 3GPP for 3G UMTS multimedia services. It is used on 3G mobile phones and may be used for but can also be played on some 2G and 4G phones.
- AAC: Some phones like the Sony Ericsson W810i support ring tones in ".m4a" AAC format. The iPhone supports ring tones in ".m4r" AAC format. The ".m4r" format is exactly the same as the ".m4a" format other than the possibility of including DRM style copy protection in an ".m4r" file.
- AMR: Audio compression format specialized in speech used by Nokia before mp3 became standard.
- FLAC: Smartphones that play FLAC audio files out-of-the-box such as BlackBerry and Android-powered ones often allow FLAC files to be set as ringtones.
- eMelody: Older monophonic Ericsson format.
- iMelody: Most new phones that don't do Nokia's Smart Messaging are using this monophonic format.
- KWS: Kyocera's ringer format.
- MID / MIDI: Popular sound format.
- Morse code: Text files with a .MORSE extension get converted into morse code songs.
- MOT: An older ringer format for Motorola phones.
- MP3: Most phones support ring tones that are mp3 format.
- Nokia / SCKL / OTT: Nokia Smart Messaging format. Nokia phones can receive ring tones as a text message. Ring tone tools can create these text messages. This allows anyone with a compatible phone to load their own ring tones in without a data cable. There are other phones besides Nokia that use this.
- Ogg Vorbis: default on Android powered phones.
- PDB: Palm database. This is the format used to load ring tones on PDA phones such as the Kyocera 6035 and the Handspring Treo.
- PMD: Format co-created by Qualcomm and Japanese company Faith which can include MIDI, sampled (PCM) audio, static graphics, animation, text, vibration and LED events
- QCP: File format generated by Qualcomm PureVoice software. Especially well-suited for simple vocal recordings.
- RTTTL: A popular text format for ring tones.
- RTX: Similar to RTTTL with some advanced features. Also the octaves are different on RTX.
- Samsung1 & Samsung2: Samsung keypress format.
- Siemens Keypress: Can create and read in a Siemens text file format.
- Siemens SEO: Siemens SEO binary format.
- SMAF: Yamaha music format that combines MIDI with instrument sound data (aka Module files). Filenames have the extension "MMF" or "MLD".
- SRT: Sipura ringtone for Sipura Technology VoIP phones.
- C-Type Ringers - Maintenance. Bell System Practice, issue 4 (Sept. 1978), section 501-250-303
- History of the Ringtone
- Sokolowski, Steve (1989). "Customize Your Phone", Ch. 8 "Telephone Melody Ringer". TAB Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA. ISBN 0-8306-9354-8.
- Sokolowski, Steve (1989). "Customize Your Phone", Ch. 20 "Animated Telephone Ringer". TAB Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA. ISBN 0-8306-9354-8.
- Bigelow, Carr and Winder (2001). "Understanding Telephone Electronics", Fourth Edition. Newnes. ISBN 0-7506-7175-0.
- (Japanese) asahi.com, retrieved on September 6, 2008 (Cache)
- ケータイ着メロ ドレミBOOK [Mobile Ringtones Do-Re-Mi Book] (in Japanese). July 1998.
- Time Magazine Europe: The Sweet Sound Of Success
- First ever MEF Special Recognition Award goes to the pioneer of the mobile ringtone business — "Vesku" Paananen, a June 4, 2004 press release from the Mobile Entertainment Forum
- Ring My Bell, a 2005 article from The New Yorker
- Gopinath, Sumanth (2005). "Ringtones, or the auditory logic of globalization". First Monday. 10 (12). Retrieved 28 November 2012.
- Evolution of Ringtones from SendMe Mobile
- Greg Sandoval (September 3, 2009). "Apple to offer ready-made ringtones". CNET. CNN.
- Mehta, Stephanie N. (December 12, 2005). "Wagner's ring? Way too long.". Fortune. p. 40.
- Shrinking Ringtone Sales Lead to Decline in U.S. Mobile Music Market, an August 5, 2009 press release published on the Entrepreneur magazine website
- (Japanese) 2002 news release on KDDI (au) official website, retrieved on September 7, 2008
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