What is a ringtone?

The sound that a phone makes to signal an incoming call is called a ringtone. Learn more about the term refers to alert sound by our phone.

The term originally referred to the sound made by electromechanically striking bells or gongs, but it is now used to describe any sound made by a device to notify a user of an incoming call.

Starting in the late 19th century, plain old telephone services (POTS) produced the signal by adding ringing voltage to the direct current line voltage. Electronic phones may make noises like chirping, warbling, or other noises. Distinctive ringing, which refers to variations in the cadence or tone of the ring signal, can be used to identify certain aspects of incoming calls.

Modern phones, particularly smartphones, come preloaded with a variety of ringtones. Custom ringtones can be created by customers or purchased for installation on the device. Digital ringtones (example: Taylor Swift Ringtones) were a significant market in the 2000s, reaching a peak of up to $4 billion in worldwide sales in 2004, but by the end of the decade, the market had drastically shrunk.


When the telephone network detects an incoming call, a phone will ring to notify the recipient of the call attempt. Landline telephones typically receive an electric alternating current signal from the phone exchange to which they are connected, also known as a power ringing or ringing signal. An electric bell was initially powered by the ringing current. In the case of mobile phones, the recipient’s device receives a message from the network, which may trigger a sound, a visual, or a vibrating indication.

This signal is produced on a POTS interface by adding ringing voltage to the line’s existing 48 VDC. The “SLC” for Subscriber Line Carrier, also known as the Central Office, or a local multiplexer, performs this function. (SLC is an Alcatel-Lucent trademark, but it’s frequently used in a generic sense.) Electromagnetic ringers are still commonly used on telephones. In North America, the ringing signal is typically specified at a voltage of about 90 volts AC and a frequency of 20 hertz. In Europe, it ranges from 60 to 90 VAC at a 25 Hz frequency. In the US, some party lines with non-Bell Company systems used multiple frequencies for selective ringing. Several sources can produce ringing voltage.

For ringing and other signals like dial tones and busy signals, large central offices used motor-driven generator sets. Special sub-cycle magnetic oscillators were used in smaller offices. In most cases, solid-state oscillators have taken their place. An electromagnet was originally set off by this voltage to ring a bell mounted inside the phone or in a nearby mounted ringer box. Electronically triggered warbling tones are produced by fixed phones from the late 20th century and later when they detect this ringing current voltage. Since second-generation (2G) mobile phones have been fully digital since the early 1990s, they signal to ring as part of the protocol they use to communicate with the cell base stations.

Some phones use electronics to create other sounds besides the traditional “ring,” such as warbling or chirping. Different ring signals can be used to signal different aspects of incoming calls. For instance, ringing bursts with a shorter gap between them could be used to indicate a call is coming in from a specific number.

When the telephone handset is lifted off the hook, the impedance of the entire telephone line (local loop) decreases, which causes ringing to be “tripped” in POTS switching systems. This indicates that the call has been answered and answered. The call is connected right away by the phone exchange, which also removes the ringing noise from the line.

Ring cadence is the term for the ringing pattern in which the high voltage ring current is alternately turned on and off to produce the pattern. The typical ring cadence in North America is two seconds of ringing and four seconds of silence. The typical ring cadence in Australia and the UK is 400 ms on, 200 ms off, 400 ms on, and 2000 ms off. Other patterns are used in various nations around the world, and these patterns may vary from region to region. A pattern that was once widely used on party line (telephony) is still available from some central offices to distinguish between different phone numbers assigned to the same line.

Caller ID signals are frequently sent during the pause between the first and second bursts of the ringing signals, including in North American Bellcore standards.

The audible ringing signal—often referred to as the ringback tone—let’s the caller know how the call is going. Typically, power ringing and audible ringing are not coordinated.

The “C” type ringer in the model 500 and 2500 landline telephone sets had seven different gong combinations. In addition to providing “distinctive tones” for customers who are hard of hearing, these gongs also made it possible to identify the particular telephone that was ringing when several telephones were placed close together. There was also a “Bell Chime” available, which could be programmed to ring like a doorbell or a regular telephone.

While the predecessors to ringtones—rings, ringers, ring signals, or what might be considered the call signals—date back to the invention of telephony, modern ringtones emerged in the 1960s and have since evolved into tunes and a variety of programmable tones or melodies. The head of the secret government agency had a red phone that connected directly to the President and rang with a distinct musical ringtone in the 1966 film Our Man Flint, which is often cited as the origin of the modern ringtone.

Following a 1975 FCC decision that allowed third-party devices to be connected to phone lines, manufacturers created accessory telephone ringers that rang instead of using mechanical bells, electronic tones or melodies. Additionally, people created their own ringers that played music when a call came in using the chip from a musical greeting card. One such ringer, which was described in a book published in 1989, even has a toy dog that barks and wags its tail when a call comes in. Electronic phone ringers eventually became the standard. Some of these ringers generated a single tone, while others generated a series of two or three tones or a melodic progression. Some novelty phones come with a ringer that goes with them, like a duck that quacks or a car that honks its horn.

Polyphonic ringtone technology first appeared in 1999 with the release of the Yamaha MA-1 sound chip, which featured four 2-op FM synthesis channels. The MA series chips play MIDI-based synthetic music mobile application format (SMAF) ringtones. The MA-2, which has 16 channels and supports ADPCM samples, and the MA-3, which has 32 FM channels and 8 wavetable channels, respectively, followed it in 2000 and 2001. MiniBAE, created by Thomas Dolby’s audio technology company Beatnik, was one of the first software-based polyphonic synths to be used on mobile devices. Beatnik Audio Engine, which was previously utilized in goods like WebTV, has been optimized for this product. The Nokia 3510, which came out in 2002, was the first phone to have this synth.

Ringtone Maker

A ringtone maker is a program that transforms a user-selected song or other audio file into a mobile phone’s ringtone. By using Bluetooth, text messaging, direct cable connection, text messaging, or email, the ringtone file is downloaded and installed in the mobile phone. Users can make ringtones from digital music or audio on many websites.

The first ringtone maker was Harmonium, created in 1997 for use with Nokia smart messaging by Finnish computer programmer Vesa-Matti Paananen. Many Sony Ericsson phones come with the MusicDJ software, which allows users to create their own music tones using either a “melody composer” or a sample/loop arranger. These frequently employ encoding formats exclusive to a specific phone model or brand. Other formats, like MIDI or MP3, are frequently supported; however, before they can be used as standard ringtones, they must first be downloaded to the phone.

The first third-party service for online ringtone creation that didn’t require any downloadable software or digital audio editors was “SmashTheTones,” now known as “Mobile17,” in 2005. Later, iPhones added the capability to turn a song downloaded from the iTunes library into a ringtone.