Waiting for the Phone to Bark
By Daniel Terdiman
The sound of cell phones ringing
in public may soon get much more interesting -- or annoying, depending on your
point of view.
For better or worse, be prepared to hear burps, farts, cats meowing and dogs
barking, and even pornographic sounds alerting wireless customers that someone
is on the line.
New services let cell-phone customers create just about any kind of ring tone
they want, and designate different ones for specific people in their phonebooks.
One such service, from Xingtone, allows subscribers to use any audio file on
their PC as a ring tone.
"I've done about eight or 10 so far, and every day I'll find some song or a riff
on a song, and I'll say, 'Hey, I want that as my ringer,'" said Xingtone user
Dave Cobb. "It's actually had me seeking out funny sounds for my phone rather
than being spoon-fed some sound from my carrier."
Ring tones are a growing business for cell-phone providers. According to Seamus
McAteer, principal analyst at Zelos Group, sales of ring tones will top $1.5
billion worldwide in 2003, and nearly $100 million in the United States. But
while the global market has more or less matured, McAteer said, in the United
States it appears poised to double year over year for at least another couple of
Jenny Stevens, a spokeswoman for Sprint PCS, said her company charges between
$1.50 and $2.50 per ring tone.
That may be pricey for those who want to use many different tones, but Stevens
said that from August 2002 to June 2003, the last period for which the company
has figures, ring tones made up "the lion's share" of 15 million downloads by
However, the selection of ring tones offered by Sprint and other carriers is
limited to what they or their partners make available. That limitation has
opened the door to companies like Xingtone, which hopes to capture some of that
business by giving subscribers the ability to create their own ring tones and
avoid paying the carriers.
The company is betting that consumers would rather pay it a one-time fee of $15
for an unlimited number of ring tones than buy them one at a time from their
wireless carrier, especially if they can create their own sounds.
"My job is to get rid of bing bong bing and that annoying electric chatter that
you hear when you're in a restaurant," said CEO Brad Zutaut.
Although Xingtone does not have a partnership with any cell-phone carriers, it
recently adapted its technology for use by AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless and
T-Mobile customers. In addition, the service has been available for the last few
months to about 28,000 Sprint PCS users.
Xingtone subscribers download ring tones to their mobile phones by using their
carriers' wireless Web capabilities. Thus, downloading a ring tone is just like
moving a file from the Web to a PC.