A ringtone is the sound made by a telephone to indicate an incoming telephone call. Originally referring to the sound of electromechanical striking of bells or gongs, the term refers to any sound by any device alerting of an incoming call.
On plain old telephone services (POTS), starting in the late 19th century, the signal is created by superimposing ringing voltage on the direct current line voltage. Electronic telephones could produce a warbling, chirping, or other sounds. Variations of the cadence or tone of the ring signal, called distinctive ringing, can be used to indicate characteristics of incoming calls.
Modern telephones, especially , are manufactured with a preloaded selection of ringtones. Customers can buy or generate custom ringtones for installation on the device. Digital ringtones were a large market in the 2000s, at its peak generating up to $4 billion in worldwide sales in 2004, but the market declined steeply by the end of the decade.
On a POTS interface, this signal is created by superimposing ringing voltage atop the −48 VDC already on the line. This is done at the Central Office, or a neighborhood multiplexer called an "SLC" for Subscriber Line Carrier. (SLC is a trademark of Alcatel-Lucent, but is often used generically.) Telephones with electromagnetic ringers are still in widespread use. The ringing signal in North America is normally specified at ca. 90 AC with a frequency of 20 hertz. In Europe it is around 60–90 VAC with a frequency of 25 Hz. Some non-Bell Company system party lines in the US used multiple frequencies for selective ringing. Ringing voltage is produced by various sources. Large central offices used motor-driven generator sets for both ringing and other signals such as dial tone and busy signals. In smaller offices, special sub-cycle magnetic oscillators were used. Typically, solid-state oscillators have replaced them. Originally this voltage was used to trigger an electromagnet to ring a bell installed inside the telephone, or in a nearby mounted ringer box.
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.
While the sound produced is still called a "ring", some phones electronically produce a warbling, , or other sound. Variation of the ring signal can be used to indicate characteristics of incoming calls. For example, ringing bursts with a shorter interval between them might be used to signal a call from a given number.
In POTS switching systems, ringing is said to be "tripped" when the impedance of the entire telephone line ( local loop) is reduced when the telephone handset is lifted off the hook. This signals that the telephone call has been answered. The telephone exchange immediately removes the ringing signal from the line and connects the call.
The ringing pattern is known as ring cadence, in which the high voltage ring current is switched on and off to create the pattern. In North America, the standard ring cadence is 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 one of multiple telephone numbers assigned to the same line, a pattern once widely used on party line (telephony).
The caller is informed about the progress of the call by the ringing tone, often called ringback tone. Power ringing and audible ringing are not generally synchronized.
Seven different gong combinations for the "C" type ringer were included in the model 500 and 2500 landline telephone sets. These gongs provided "distinctive tones" for hearing-impaired customers and also made it possible to distinguish the specific telephone that was ringing when several telephones were placed in close proximity.AT&T, Bell System Practices, Section 501-250-303 Issue 4, C-Type Ringers—Maintenance., Sept. 1978. A "Bell Chime" was also offered, which could be set to sound like a doorbell or to ring like a standard telephone.
While rings, ringers, 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 appeared 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 connected directly to the President and rang with a distinctive musical ringtone. Following a 1975 FCC ruling which permitted third-party devices to be connected to phone lines, manufacturers produced accessory telephone ringers which rang with electronic tones or melodies rather than mechanical bells. 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.Sokolowski, Steve (1989). "Customize Your Phone", Ch. 8 "Telephone Melody Ringer". TAB Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA. . One such ringer, described in a 1989 book, even features a toy dog which barks and wags its tail when a call arrives.Sokolowski, Steve (1989). "Customize Your Phone", Ch. 20 "Animated Telephone Ringer". TAB Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA. . 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.Bigelow, Carr and Winder (2001). "Understanding Telephone Electronics", Fourth Edition. Newnes. . Some novelty phones have a ringer to match, such as a duck that quacks or a car that honks its horn.
Polyphonic ringtone technology dates back to 1999, when the Yamaha MA-1 sound chip was introduced, including four 2-op FM synthesis channels.
The earliest ringtone maker was Harmonium, developed by Vesa-Matti Paananen, a Finnish computer programmer, and released in 1997 for use with Nokia smart messaging. 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 Some phone manufacturers included features for users to create music tones, either with a "melody composer" or a sample/loop arranger, such as the MusicDJ software included on 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 ringtone.
In 2005, "SmashTheTones", now "Mobile17", became the first third-party solution for ringtone creation online without requiring downloadable software or a digital audio editor. Later, iPhones included the ability to create a ringtone from a song purchased with the iTunes library. Evolution of Ringtones from SendMe Mobile
The first downloadable mobile ringtone service was created and delivered in Finland in 1998 when Radiolinja (a Finnish mobile operator now known as Elisa Oyj) 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. In November 1998, Digitalphone Groupe (SoftBank Mobile) started a similar service in Japan.
Andy Clarke, while working for UK phone provider Orange, helped created the B5 Ringtone License with the UK's Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society in 1998. In 1999, Clarke 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.
The fact that consumers were willing to pay up to $5 for ringtones, made mobile music a profitable part of the music industry. A significant portion of sales went to the cell phone provider. The Manhattan-based marketing and consulting firm Consect estimated ringtones generated $4 billion in worldwide sales in 2004. According to Fortune magazine, ringtones 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. 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. Shrinking Ringtone Sales Lead to Decline in U.S. Mobile Music Market, an August 5, 2009 press release published on the Entrepreneur magazine website