The Telephone Zone

Ring Tones


The History of Ring Tones – Classical to Rap

The air is alive with the sound of ring tones…or something like that. But it really is. Everywhere you go you can hear distinctive and unique cellphone rings, identifying a phone, or a particular caller. You can hear Beethoven, or you can hear 50 Cent. But have you ever wondered where the idea for this came from? Let’s take a look.

Europeans get the jump

We have to talk long distance to learn about the beginnings of this interesting technology. It appears that the first ring tones were sold in 2001 in Finland, whose place on the world's telecommunications stage has always been highly influential, compared to the size of its population. At that time, Finnish teenagers were right into SMS (Short Messaging Service) cellular technology. Every teenager seemed to have a cellphone and, as you looked around the streets, you could see them all typing away with their thumbs, sending text messages back and forth. According to the GSM Association, a mobile communications trade group, roughly 50 billion short text messages were sent worldwide during the first three months of the year.

The Finns have been trying to escalate their cellular services, building on the success of SMS. Vesa-Matti Paananen, co-founder and chief technology officer at Helsinki-based Add2Phone, is one of the people who invented the business of selling custom ring tones. That business has been developed to the point where it is today – for a small fee, mobile customers can download customized ring tones and screen art for their phones.

The competition gets hot

Meanwhile, back in America, cellular providers are positioning for market share – they want a part of the 137 million Americans who spend around $70 billion a year on mobile telecommunications services.

Nokia is the world’s biggest cellular phone manufacturer. They’ve learned that the way to find out what people want is to watch them – see what they’re doing and, from that, figure out what they want. Nokia’s obviously good at that.

The cellular industry was only reaching about 20% of the teenage and college-student markets, and that had to improve. So they watched, and found out that teenagers, especially girls, loved to talk on the phone. Gary Stein, a marketing analyst with Jupiter Research, agrees when he says, “There seems to be a natural match between teenage girls and telephones. It’s like peanut butter and jelly.”

Research also revealed that these girls were very fashion-conscious. What they wanted was customizable, sleek and small cellphones. So Nokia provided teenagers with interchangeable faceplates, colorful covers and funky antennas.

Boost Mobile, a prepaid cellular company majority-owned by Nextel, was the first to unveil a phone targeted at teenage girls who like to hang out with their friends, surfing and snowboarding. Their phones come with nearly 500 ring tones, and feature pop-music songs such as “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, “Like a Virgin”, “Funky Town”, “California Dreamin’”, and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Sounds like the old transistor radios we used to hear around the beach.

Meanwhile, Japan, ever the competitor in the electronics market, was also in the race. JASRAC, the Japanese copyright organization collected more than $113 million in royalties for ring tones on cellphones in 2003.

Motorola and MTV make music

Now there’s an unusual relationship – Motorola and MTV. What could they possibly want to do together? How about developing a wireless menu interface for cellphones? Ok, maybe, but why? MTV…music…cellphones. Ah, now it’s all coming together – this interface has direct links to embedded or over-the-air downloadable MTV and Motorola content and experiences. These experiences include packaged wallpaper, screensavers, and ring tones. And these aren’t the ring tones we’re used to listening to. They’re actual recordings by musical artists. Motorola has developed a technology called MotoMixer, which provides mobile and online mixing capabilities to create unique ring tones.

Geoffrey Frost, corporate vice-president of global marketing for Motorola, says, “Anyone familiar with our industry will view this new partnership as a significant milestone in the overall history of the wireless history. The television landscape was forever changed when MTV appeared on TV sets around the world in 1981. We see the results of this partnership having a similar effect as the innovation of MTV and Motorola join together to create an environment designed to accelerate and enhance the daily usage of mobile phones.”

Statistics tell the story – ring tones are catching on

BMI, the recording giant, believes that the U.S. market will be worth more than $135 million at the retail level in 2004. Consumers have jumped on this new technology, pushing the industry from almost nothing four years ago to an expected $11 billion worldwide by 2005.

As phones become fancier and more versatile, more people are taking advantage of the new options. Analyst Dana Thorat at IDC, a technology research firm, estimates that 9.9 million people downloaded a ring tone in 2003, up from 4.8 million in 2002. IDC predicts that number will grow to 54.3 million by the end of 2007. U.S. revenue for downloaded ring tones in 2003 was $56.8 million. Ms. Thorat says, “It doesn’t take a lot of thought to download and pay a buck or two for a ring tone. And it’s something that you’ll go back again and get another one.”

Last year, ring tone sales worldwide increased by 40% to $3.5 billion. Do you think this idea is working? It looks like it – but for how long? Richard Jesty, an analyst at The Arc Group, a London-based telecommunications consulting firm, says, “Over time, the novelty will wear off, but not yet.” He expects that sales will remain strong through 2008, eventually hitting $5.2 billion worldwide.

The uniqueness of ring tones spurs a bizarre event

We all know that innovation produces creativity – check this out and see if you don’t think this is the height of creativity. This is a very interesting twist on cellphone music: Recently some classical music lovers attended a bizarre concert at Cheltenham’s International Festival. Why bizarre? Well, the 30-member orchestra traded their instruments for cellphones to try to “explore the full musical potential of the phone”.

Composer Simon Turner had the musicians tune up and play in harmony on their cellphones. The four-movement work was titled The New Ring Cycle, and included pieces on the history of the telephone, an audience participation section, and a celebratory finale. Festival administrator Toby Smith commented, “Concert-goers and mobile phones do not traditionally mix, so we thought it would be interesting to see whether we could create music for these instruments, alongside Bach and Beethoven.”

Back to reality

So you can see that ring tones have come a long way. The technology is continually advancing, providing more interesting and useful applications. And, as we said, it ain’t over yet! We hope you got the message here, that ring tones can make your cellphone life more simple. But if you didn’t get the message, give us a call. We’ll be listening for “I Hear You Knocking”!

About The Author

Gareth Marples is a successful freelance writer providing tips and advice for consumers purchasing cellular phone offers by state, cell phone plans and unlimited long distance. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This article on the "History of Ring Tones" reprinted with permission.

© 2004 - Net Guides Publishing, Inc.

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