It might not be music to everyone's ears, but ring tones have proved to be a massive market, writes Bloor Research analyst Rob Bamforth. From bedroom composers to big business mobile operators, demand has exceeded all expectations.
It's even had a substitution effect on the CD single industry. Surprising really, that so many people would want to pay for a low-quality audio clip delivered to their hip, just to be in vogue. But will they pay in such numbers for the latest tone for their callers to hear?
Customised ringing where the recipient sets up a tune for the caller to hear instead of 'ring ring' was launched in Korea almost a year ago. It has enjoyed rapid success in the market with a third of users already signed up. Subscribers pay a price per tune and then a monthly subscription. Now this isn't music on hold, but music before answering, so the caller won't get to hear much unless the recipient is slow to answer. But there are other tweaks. The audio content can be varied based on the caller identity for example.
So is this a big business opportunity in Europe? T-Mobile UK thinks so.
It's the first European operator to launch a caller tune service. There are 100 tunes to select from and it costs £1.50 per tune set up fee and £1 per month service subscription. The market potential is vast. The same user community that spends millions on personalised ring tones might be tempted to pay for tunes to share their musical tastes with callers.
It's a straightforward idea, but to deliver the service simply, scale to large numbers of users and keep the service delivery manageable requires a suitable platform. T-Mobile has based its solution on the Telsis Ocean family of platforms. The keys to this service is being able to scale up rapidly to large numbers of users as demand takes off, and being able to switch new content in without affecting the running service.
The Ocean solution uses a number of intelligent peripheral units, managed by a service control point. Each intelligent peripheral can support up to 120 simultaneous calls with no response degradation, and a service control point can handle up to 10,000 simultaneous calls. The intelligent peripheral supports up to 6000 hours of caller audio, and services can be added without taking the platform out of operation. That's just the level of flexibility required.
More sophisticated mobile data services require more extensive investment in operator infrastructure and the active encouragement of an ecosystem of content and service providers. Whilst this is undoubtedly the direction for long term profitability, there are short-term needs. This type of offering takes existing content, exploits the burgeoning ringtone market, and delivers a simple, but potentially highly-fashionable service.
Of course it doesn't have to be just for revealing a taste in music. All sorts of spoken messages could be used in the ringing time - perhaps we'll be longing for the return of the ring. Even so, this looks like just the service to get the tills ringing in new revenues for operators.