You are here

Ringtones: What they are and where to get them

Ringtones are the sounds your phone makes when there is an incoming call or message. The shorter sound used to signal an SMS text, email or voice mail message is sometimes called an alert tone. Today, cellular phones can be set-up to make just about any noise you want to signal a call. And, different sounds can be used to signal different callers. Which begs the question; Why all the hype about changing your cell phone's ringtone? We are all familiar with the everyday sound of a ringing landline phone, and that hasn't changed too much over the years, yet we still know when someone is calling.

Why are there now so many options for the ring on your mobile phone?

  1. Because its possible. Today's wireless phones are actually very sophisitacted computers with lots of processing power and memory. It is a small effort to add a few ringing options. And, if that makes the phones more appealing to buyers, manufactures will add it.
  2. They're fun. Yes, the regular ringtone does its job, but it is a little boring. Many people are just get a kick out of hearing the little tune they picked out for their phone.
  3. Identification. How many times have you seen everybody in the vicinty of a ringing cell phone reach for their own phone? If you have a distictive ringtone, you know when it is YOUR cellphone and not somebody else's.

Wireless phone ringtones primarily come in two different types; monophonic ringtones and polyphonic ringtones.

Monophonic Ringtones

Presently these are the tones played by the majority of cellular phones. Monophnonic tones sound like the beeping of a computer. The tunes are simple because the phone can only produce one sound (beep) at a time. The tune of the ringtone is made up of a series of sequential beeps at different frequencies.

Polyphonic Ringtones

Phones that play polyphonic ringtones have the ability to produce 16 separate sounds at once. This makes for music that is much richer and the tunes sound more like the music you know. If you are used to monophonic ringtones, the first time you hear a polyphonic tone on someone's phone, your reaction is; What the @!#%$ is that! The difference between the two types is significant. With further advances, ringtones will soon sound like CD quality music.

A polyphonic ringtone doesn't necessarily have to be music at all, they can be any kind of sound, including voices. Often, to be able to add polyphonic ringtones to your phone, you need an internet capable phone and a plan with your wireless carrier that allows internet access.

So, you want to have a nifty new ringing for your wireless phone? First, check your phone. Not all wireless phones in use today have the ability to play ringtones. Nokias have had ringtones for several years. Most of the newer phones from manufactures such as Motorola, Samsung, Siemens, Sony-Ericsson, LG, Sanyo, Panasonic, Audiovox and Kyocera now have ringtone capabilities. You also might already have a few different tunes pre-loaded in the phone. See your owner's manual on how to find and select your cellphone's ringtone. If you are ready to find something new, you will need to download some ringtones, or in the case of monophonic tones, have it sent to you phone in the form of a text message. The most prevelant way of getting ringtones into your cellular phone is over the wireless system, but it is also possible by way of a data cable.

Where can you get ringtones for your cell phone?

The first place to look is your own wireless carrier. Often they have a special web site set up for downloading all kinds of goodies for your phone such as ringtones, graphics and games. Their web sites are the easiest to use because they make it clear wether or not you have a compatible phone and supply you with simple instructions for getting the ringtones.

Some example ringtone sites from the major wireless providers are:

  • T-Mobile: t-zone service
  • Sprint PCS: PCS Vision
  • Verizon Wireless: getitNOW

Generally, on these sites, they will offer a few free examples and then charge anywhere from 50 cents to 2 dollars for each ringtone download. To find the web sites of carriers serving your area, enter your ZIP code in the search box on the right side of this page and click on your carrier's web site link in the list of results.

Ringtone Web Sites

Another place to find cellular ringtones are the many web sites that have sprung up on the web for this purpose. Some are free sites and other sites charge for ringtones. When using these sites, it is important to keep a few things in mind:

  1. Due to the soaring popularity of ringtones around the world, many of the ringtone sites you will find are based outside the U.S. If you want to download ringtones from any site, be sure, first that they will work with your specific phone model and, second that they can be delivered over your phone company's network. Most ringtone sites have a list of compatible phones and wireless networks. Many of the non-U.S. sites will NOT work with your phone and/or wireless provider.
  2. Just like all other music, ringtones are protected by copyrights. Meaning, unless the copyright is expired, the original artist is due a royalty for use of their work. If you are going to download ringtones, check to be sure the web site has secured all the necessary rights to be able to distribute the music in the form of a ringtone. Ringtone sites that pirate music are now a big target for music industry lawsuits.

These third party sites will also usually offer a set of ringtones you can download for free and then charge 50 cents to 2 dollars per ringtone. Be sure you know exactly what each costs before you hit the download button!

Here are a few sites offering ringtones for a monthly fee:

  • Thumbplay
  • Flycell

Compose Your Own Ringtones

Another option for ringtones is to compose your own. Several phone models have a feature where you can program a ringtone with a series of buttons pressed. For other phones you can get software for your computer that will allow you to compose ringtones and then download them to your phone via a data cable. There is also software available that will help you convert music from CD, MP3 or WMA into ringtones.

Ringtones can be a great way to make your wireless phone more personal. They are inexpensive and easy to get - go ahead and give it a try. If you make your own, they will be unique to your phone.

For more information, see our wireless discussion forums here:

Ringtones | Graphics | Software | Mods Forum

Ringtones are a very popular topic there and our users can help you find the latest sources of information. You can use the search button to find ringtone topics.

The Team


Who has the best wireless coverage in your area?

Get opinions from people who live in the Northeastern U.S.
See our Forums.

Find Service

Find and research all the cell phone companies serving your area.
Enter your ZIP code to start your search!


Most recently, how long did you wait before buying a new phone?