Welcome!

Mobile IoT Authors: Automic Blog, Leon Adato, Angsuman Dutta, Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Mobile IoT

Mobile IoT: Article

Ringback Tones

Revenue at our doorstep

The search for "the next ringtones" has another contender, and this time everything seems to add up.

Question: Name a service that launched with only a handful of compatible handsets, provided AM-radio sound quality, was barely marketed, but still managed to become a multibillion-dollar industry in three years.

The answer: ringtones. In 2000, few people knew that phones were capable of more than just R2-D2 beeps, let alone sounds capable of creating a multibillion-dollar industry. But two years later, the UK ringtone market was already driving $71 million in revenue, according to the Mobile Data Association. Today, the worldwide ringtone market is worth more than $2.5 billion, according to an April 2004 Yankee Group study.

That success begs a question: Are ringtones as good as it gets?

What's a Ringback Tone?
Ringback tones replace the standard ringing sound heard when a call is connected and you're waiting for the other person to answer. Rings are replaced with content such as music, jokes, or funny quips that entertain waiting callers. One way to understand ringback tones is that, like ringtones, they replace a run-of-the-mill sound with something fun and creative. Ringback tones are selected and controlled by the person being called.

A common trait is that ringtones and ringback tones both represent ways for service providers to tap new revenue streams. With ringback tones, service providers can leverage the things that helped make ringtones a hit, such as the ability to personalize and liven up something otherwise mundane. However, ringback tones provide a new twist: they allow users to express themselves to the people who matter most - the people who are calling. From an operations perspective, carriers can utilize many of the same ringtone management tools and content relationships. The difference is that ringback tones offer a much more lucrative business model.

Why Ringback Tones?
Why do ringback tones have a brighter future than ringtones? One reason is that they work with any phone, old or new, wired or wireless, because the service resides on the network rather than on the phone. By comparison, only wireless subscribers can use ringtones, and even they're limited by factors such as the phone's audio quality and memory - assuming that their phone can handle ringtones at all. Everyone who calls a ringback tone subscriber will be exposed to this service, unlike the case with ringtones, which are heard only by the called party.

A key upshot is that a ringback tone service can immediately tap a service provider's entire customer base. It's conceivable that a customer could also have multiple ringback tones, such as one for their home number, one for their wireless phone, and one for their office number, regardless of whether those services are delivered by disparate networks.

A ringback tone service has the potential to generate more revenue per subscriber than a ringtone service. One reason is that with ringtones, revenue is earned only when a user makes the effort to download one. Aside from a handful of demographics, such as teens, few users tend to change their ringtones on a regular basis. Carriers are lacking the tools to encourage customers to consume additional content.

This is not the case with ringback tones, which empower carriers to be much more proactive in motivating customers to consume more content. Ringback tones are controlled and managed from the network, not from the user's device. The intelligence and control provided by the network creates a richer service that allows for unique content to be directed to individuals and groups, made specific for time of day, or customized for unique events. The ability to influence and motivate the purchase of content moves the carrier from back-seat passenger status to a driver of new revenue-generating services.

A network-based system with personalized Web pages enables easy customization and maintenance of multiple ringback tones. Unique content can be provisioned for specific people - such as classical music for dad or disco for mom. Time of day or one-time events, such as birthdays, can also be provisioned, or a mix of content can be assigned randomly. Intuitive Web portals encourage users to sample and then provision multiple selections of content. Downloadable clients such as BREW or J2ME, or IVR systems, provide other ways for users to adjust the ringback tones that they've selected for their family and friends without the need to go back to their Web provisioning page.

Users can also avoid "slamdowns," where first-time callers hang up because they're surprised to hear something other than a ring. For example, they can record a brief voice message before the music or other content starts, such as: "This is Sam. Hold on while I answer the phone." This feature has a side benefit - callers immediately know that they've reached the right person, something that a standard ring doesn't provide.

From a pricing perspective, ringback tones provide users with a better value proposition than a one-time download of a ringtone or MP3 file:

  • Flexibility: Customers have the right to use the content multiple times at their discretion. For example, they can specify for whom, when, and how often the content will be used. The carrier is the secure middleman ensuring that the content owners are duly compensated.
  • Service: The network provides a simple and highly customized service for every call made to your number. The carrier provides a continuous service by matching each caller to the correct content and then playing the unique content for each call, versus the generic ring from the network switch.
  • Storage: The carrier holds and maintains each customer's collection of ringback tones, so all customers receive their own space on the network for content storage. This is for all of their ringback tones, not just those that are active.
  • No limitations: Unlike ringtones, ringback tones aren't limited by users' devices. Ringback tones reside on the network, so they'll work with any wired or wireless phone. As a result, users know that all of their callers can enjoy the service. Ringback tones are not a niche play.
These benefits highlight another reason why ringback tones differ from ringtones. Users are buying more than content: they're buying a customized service and storage. However, users may not immediately recognize these benefits. That's why a carrier's marketing messages must educate the end user so it's impossible to miss the bang-for-the-buck benefits of ringback tones.

Creating Bundled Offerings
One obvious benefit of self-provisioning is that giving users multiple ways to tailor the service improves the chances they'll use it regularly, which, in turn, drives more revenue. Less obvious is the fact that self-provisioning tightens the relationship between carrier and customer. By driving traffic to, say, a carrier-owned portal, there's a better chance that users will be exposed to additional services that they otherwise would have missed if marketed through traditional channels, such as billing inserts.

For example, while provisioning ringback tones, subscribers may be enticed to select a themed bundle that includes a movie theme song as the ringback tone, a sound bite from the film as a dedication, and a character's voice for a fun voicemail greeting. Wireless carriers may also include wallpaper and ringtones in their bundles. By providing a one-stop shop with a compelling value proposition, carriers can defend the ringtone revenue stream from online competitors that completely bypass them by delivering content directly to users' handsets.

Deploying Ringback Tones
Many carriers view ringback tones as a must-have from a competitive standpoint. For example, once one carrier launched the service in a Pacific Rim country, others quickly followed, largely because calls met with a standard ring now seemed ho-hum to users. In Israel, when anyone calls an Orange customer they can be entertained with Funtone, a ringback tone service provided by Comverse and offered under Orange's Funtone name. This service offers a personalized greeting and custom content from a wide variety of recording artists, from Avril Lavigne to Dido to local Israeli music. In Europe, at least one global carrier subsidiary has launched a ringback tone service. These are just the first seeds and by the end of 2004 there will be many more live services launched across Europe and the U.S.

Yet enterprises may prove to be the sleeper segment. According to Uri Admon, who is responsible for product marketing for Orange Israel: "We are very pleased with the take-up of Funtone. We've had so much interest from corporate customers, who see the value of the service for their business, that we plan to offer a version of Funtone specifically for them." Companies can use ringback tones to influence the mood and perceptions of incoming callers, or they can create customized ringback tones for specific customers. Companies can also create outdial ringback tones that play a corporate theme song, music for a new product launch, or other company-specific content whenever an employee dials out from a wired or wireless company phone.

What's more, carriers with older switches or multivendor networks aren't locked out of this market.

The first step in deploying a ringback tone service is to tweak the switch to allow for the interruption of the call flow so that instead of playing a generic ring, it connects to the ringback tone system. Intelligent network switches can be easily reconfigured to have the calling party receive the customized ringback tone. Here the advantage falls to the wireline carriers who long ago invested in upgrading their networks in order to supply a slew of smart or intelligent services (e.g., 800 number services).

Intelligent switches are not as prevalent for wireless carriers, who can choose to implement either a service node or a switch-based solution. Service nodes route the entire call through the ringback tone platform, but this circuitous path requires additional ports and trunks for each call, which can be an inefficient use of network resources. A few switches can mitigate the incremental costs if they have the ability to release the call from the ringback tone platform once the call has been completed. This is known as release link trunking.

A switch-based solution requires potentially expensive software upgrades to the switch. This solution is identical to the change a carrier would make in an intelligent network switch. However, a software change to a switch requires this capability to be added to the software release cycle of each switch vendor and then scheduled into the release verification testing in the network.

Getting Started
Once the initial investment is made, carriers and their partners have the ability to add features and services whenever they want, without requiring additional changes to the switch. A basic offering can first be deployed to build usage. Next, carriers can add additional personalization and customization features that help drive content consumption and use.

The success of ringtones and fun voicemail greetings has created an ecosystem of content suppliers that can be leveraged by ringback tone services. Unlike in the early days of ringtones, the content management tools have evolved to support revenue reporting, to import content from multiple sources, and to quickly generate the multiple file formats required for each user interface (Web sampling, IVR, handset clients). Carriers can now easily aggregate content from unique promotional events, local flavor, or new or existing relationships with the music industry. A few music providers estimate that almost one-third of their revenues in the near future will come from ringback tones and true tunes, actual music clips for ringtones. Content owners and creators are eager for carriers to nurture these fruitful distribution avenues, especially a carrier-controlled service that helps ensure that their revenue stream does not get circumvented.

Last Word
Ringback tones have the potential to be a much greater revenue generator than ringtones because it's a service for the entire customer base that offers carriers more control and features to drive content consumption. Like ringtones, ringback tones highlight the revenue opportunities created by taking something that was once one-dimensional - the plain old telephone ring - and making it a dynamic and personalized part of the communication process.

More Stories By Steven Borne

Steven Borne is product marketing director for Converse, Inc., a solutions provider to wire-line and wireless carriers worldwide. His responsibilities include defining the strategic
marketing activities and overall product launch of Comverse's branded Instant Messaging offering in the North and Latin American markets.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a client-oriented software development company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex software systems for startups and enterprises. Since 2009 it has grown from a small group of passionate engineers and business...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dasher Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Dasher Technologies, Inc. ® is a premier IT solution provider that delivers expert technical resources along with trusted account executives to architect and deliver complete IT solutions and services to help our clients execute their goals, plans and objectives. Since 1999, we'v...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ayehu will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Ayehu provides IT Process Automation & Orchestration solutions for IT and Security professionals to identify and resolve critical incidents and enable rapid containment, eradication, and recovery from cyber security breaches. Ayehu provides customers greater control over IT infrastructure thro...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Elastifile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Elastifile Cloud File System (ECFS) is software-defined data infrastructure designed for seamless and efficient management of dynamic workloads across heterogeneous environments. Elastifile provides the architecture needed to optimize your hybrid cloud environment, by facilitating efficient...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Grape Up will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Grape Up is a software company specializing in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the U.S. and Europe, Grape Up works with a variety of customers from emergi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Golden Gate University will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Since 1901, non-profit Golden Gate University (GGU) has been helping adults achieve their professional goals by providing high quality, practice-based undergraduate and graduate educational programs in law, taxation, business and related professions. Many of its courses are taug...
When shopping for a new data processing platform for IoT solutions, many development teams want to be able to test-drive options before making a choice. Yet when evaluating an IoT solution, it’s simply not feasible to do so at scale with physical devices. Building a sensor simulator is the next best choice; however, generating a realistic simulation at very high TPS with ease of configurability is a formidable challenge. When dealing with multiple application or transport protocols, you would be...
21st International Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Me...
Recently, WebRTC has a lot of eyes from market. The use cases of WebRTC are expanding - video chat, online education, online health care etc. Not only for human-to-human communication, but also IoT use cases such as machine to human use cases can be seen recently. One of the typical use-case is remote camera monitoring. With WebRTC, people can have interoperability and flexibility for deploying monitoring service. However, the benefit of WebRTC for IoT is not only its convenience and interopera...
WebRTC is great technology to build your own communication tools. It will be even more exciting experience it with advanced devices, such as a 360 Camera, 360 microphone, and a depth sensor camera. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Masashi Ganeko, a manager at INFOCOM Corporation, will introduce two experimental projects from his team and what they learned from them. "Shotoku Tamago" uses the robot audition software HARK to track speakers in 360 video of a remote party. "Virtual Teleport" uses a...
When shopping for a new data processing platform for IoT solutions, many development teams want to be able to test-drive options before making a choice. Yet when evaluating an IoT solution, it’s simply not feasible to do so at scale with physical devices. Building a sensor simulator is the next best choice; however, generating a realistic simulation at very high TPS with ease of configurability is a formidable challenge. When dealing with multiple application or transport protocols, you would be...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Channels, a cybersecurity firm, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Channels, Inc. offers several products and solutions to its many clients, helping them protect critical data from being compromised and access to computer networks from the unauthorized. The company develops comprehensive data encryption security strategie...
SYS-CON Events announced today that App2Cloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. App2Cloud is an online Platform, specializing in migrating legacy applications to any Cloud Providers (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud).
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
Internet-of-Things discussions can end up either going down the consumer gadget rabbit hole or focused on the sort of data logging that industrial manufacturers have been doing forever. However, in fact, companies today are already using IoT data both to optimize their operational technology and to improve the experience of customer interactions in novel ways. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Gordon Haff, Red Hat Technology Evangelist, shared examples from a wide range of industries – including en...
Detecting internal user threats in the Big Data eco-system is challenging and cumbersome. Many organizations monitor internal usage of the Big Data eco-system using a set of alerts. This is not a scalable process given the increase in the number of alerts with the accelerating growth in data volume and user base. Organizations are increasingly leveraging machine learning to monitor only those data elements that are sensitive and critical, autonomously establish monitoring policies, and to detect...
To get the most out of their data, successful companies are not focusing on queries and data lakes, they are actively integrating analytics into their operations with a data-first application development approach. Real-time adjustments to improve revenues, reduce costs, or mitigate risk rely on applications that minimize latency on a variety of data sources. Jack Norris reviews best practices to show how companies develop, deploy, and dynamically update these applications and how this data-first...
Intelligent Automation is now one of the key business imperatives for CIOs and CISOs impacting all areas of business today. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Brian Boeggeman, VP Alliances & Partnerships at Ayehu, will talk about how business value is created and delivered through intelligent automation to today’s enterprises. The open ecosystem platform approach toward Intelligent Automation that Ayehu delivers to the market is core to enabling the creation of the self-driving enterprise.