By Andrew Bushe
Dublin – Jingle-mad cellular phone owners have splashed out over a million pounds to download ring tunes for their handsets.
"It started about 18 months ago and has taken off like the proverbial prairie fire," according to the Regulator of Premium Rate Telephone Services (REGTEL), Fred Hayden.
"The growth has been extraordinary. I couldn’t believe how this thing took off. It is not just children, it is adults as well. Sometimes they change the tone two or three times a day.
"We are getting new firms coming in here on a regular basis from all over Europe wanting to sell off their ring tones here. People are spending a lot of money and the firms are doing a lot of business."
Hayden said the sale of ring tones and logos for phones was now a "significant sector" of the premium rate call market.
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He said Irish people had spent "considerably more" than a million pounds personalizing their phones.
The calls for a new tone costs 58p a minute. Downloading a tune takes an average of two and a half minutes, costing a total of £3.75.
People can also link into a computer web site on a telephone landline and get their choice of tone directly downloaded to their mobile. This costs more per minute but is faster to download.
Most mobile phones already come with a choice of ring tones. But a huge fashion industry has grown up around the special jingles that people can use to make an individual statement.
On offer are pop chart hits, rock and dance tunes, national anthems and football supporter songs, film and TV program themes and wrestling program tones.
People can also get that special look for a mobile phone display. The logos range from "Sex Bomb" and love themes to band and rock group names to cars and drinks.
It has been a record year for the premium rate industry with big demand for calls to RTE’s "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" program, quiz programs and an increasing use of astrology services, tarot card readers and fortune tellers.
"The calls to live tarot card readers have done extraordinarily well here. People tend to be ringing these so-called advisors, experts or psychics and hearing perhaps what they want to hear," Hayden said.
The services warn in their adverts that the landline calls cost £1.50 a minute and the average call time is 2.5 minutes or £3.75. Calls from cell phones cost more and those downloading are asked to make sure they have the bill payer’s permission.
Premium rate services also involve dating and chat lines, weather forecasts, competitions, computer hardware and software technical services and racing results.
REGTEL was set up in 1995 to regulate the content and maintain standards on premium rate calls.