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dot life Monday, 8 July, 2002, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Phones, tones and mobile music
French horns, BBC
Doing justice to William Tell?

If mobile phone ringtones annoy you, then buy your ear plugs now because the tinny tunes are about to get a lot harder to ignore.
As everyone knows, most mobile phones reproduce popular - and not so popular - tunes with a series of beeps.

The limited capabilities of most handsets mean that, although the beeps can vary by several octaves, they can only be played one at a time.

It's well known that the resulting stream of sound is an aural delight, is never annoying, and only enhances its surroundings, whether it's played on a cramped commuter train, at a cricket match or during a performance of Wagner's Ring.

Top tracks

But this is all about to change.

Although you might not have realised it, your next phone will probably be able to play "polyphonic" ringtones.

Polyphonic phones
Alcatel 511
Ericsson T300
Nokia 3510
Nokia 7210
Panasonic GD95
Samsung N600
Samsung T100
SonyEricsson Z700
They will no longer be condemned to playing one beep at a time; instead they have a much larger tonal range, play several sounds at once and mix in drum beats and other effects.

"The phone has a mini-soundcard in it," said Adam Freeman, head of ringtones seller Phunky Phones.

Mr Freeman said each polyphonic ringtone could have up to 16 separate sounds playing at once.

The result is much closer to actual music, even if it hasn't entirely left behind the beepy beginnings of the first ringtones.

Currently, there are only a few phones that can play the richer sounding ringtones but, said Mr Freeman, interest was picking up.

Nokia 3510, Nokia
Sounds good, looks...well...
"We can see from first impressions that it's going to be mad," he said.

Some regular customers of Phunky Phones have asked to be told when the polyphonic tones are ready to download and buy.

Mr Freeman said he was feverishly working to turn existing tunes into polyphonic tones.

"I've been spending the last two weeks with it trying to make it work," he said.

"Before now, it took five minutes to make a ringtone," he said. "Now, it takes about an hour."

Polyphonic ringtones take up more data space than the monophonic ones and, as a result, cannot be sent via text message. They are just too big.

Instead mobile phone owners will have to download them via a premium rate number, a specially created wapsite or through the air via one of the data services which phone firms are switching on.

Personal stereo

They aren't going to be cheap either.

Phunky Phones customers are asking 4 for two polyphonic tones and one old style. They can take a few minutes to download via a premium rate line which could mean they are a costly extravagance for most users.

And it won't end there.

Companies like Paris-based Musiwave are working to make ringtones that are samples of actual music.

Samsung N600, Samsung
The N600 - one of the first polyphonic phones
Samira Fertas, spokeswoman for Musiwave, said that music was in the vanguard of the attempt to get people using data services and to generate some much needed cash for struggling telecoms firms.

She said no consumer will buy a GPRS service if that is how it is advertised.

"Instead," she said, "they want to communicate about services that educate and seduce."

Music is one of those services. Ultimately, she said, mobile operators wanted to compete with radio which is the route through which most people listen to music and encounter new songs.

Some handsets are already coming fitted with an FM radio.

But instead of just offering the chance to listen in, mobile firms want to add more. They want to add the chance to download clips for ringtones, let people find out who they are listening to, give them the chance to buy CDs and personalise the playlist.

"The final goal is to provide people with their mobile hi-fi and adapt it to their tastes," she said. "So, you get the music you like wherever you want."

The people sitting next to you on the train really cannot wait.

Add your views using the form below:

When I heard one of the first handsets to have polyphonic ringtones (Panasonic GD92), it was inevitable that it would take off. Like graphics and logo, ringtones is a major part of Individuality of ones phone and with this technology, it makes it more fun to personalise your incoming calls. It also applies to the technology of diplays where all of the sudden manufacturers are opting for full colour displays. Hopefully those irritating beeping alerts will eventually be phased out.
Shueng Li, Crewe, England

What is wrong with a mobile phone just ringing like every other phone? I can think of nothing more childish than a phone playing a tune to its user every time a call comes in.
Tom, UK

The way I see it there are two types of people. Those stupid enough to get ripped off by people selling ringtones and those sensible enough to set up ringtone selling services.
Dr Claire Weekes, UK

People in this country endlessly complain about overpriced music CDs and yet they'll gladly pay 3 for a ring tone. No doubt this same band of fashion zombies will cough up even more for a polyphonic ring tone... Luckily I won't be around to witness the cacophony - I'm emigrating to the South Pole.
Glenn Broadway, UK

Has anyone patented a phone that delivers a powerful electric shock to the owner instead?
Tim Vines, UK

I actually sold my new phone because it had polyphonic ringtones. I kept my old 'normal' ringing phone instead as it meant I could receive a call in a public place without looking (or should I say sounding) like a complete fool. Colour screens, yes, polyphonic (and recorded) ringtones, no.
Phil, England

What sort of ringtone defines me as a person...?
Scot, US

Why so negative? I think musical mobiles are inevitable. Embrace the future! Some of these comments sound like a cart horse driver sounding alarm at the arrival of the motor car.
Nikolai K, UK

I just wish someone would call me.
Joe, US

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Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Dido - Thank You
Monophonic version
Dido - Thank You
Polyphonic version
Weely guide to getting buttoned up

See also:

04 Dec 01 | Entertainment
01 Aug 00 | UK
22 Apr 02 | Entertainment
13 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
23 Jul 01 | dot life
24 May 01 | Science/Nature
06 May 02 | Science/Nature
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