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German operators are making more money from ringback tones than they are from ring tones, despite only having 2.3 per cent signed up.

Real Networks, who are busy flogging ringback tone servers, reckon that Vodafone and T-Mobile made €26m selling ring tones in Germany last year, compared to €34m from ringback tones, and that the UK could see similar figures if T-Mobile UK and 3 would just tell people the service exists.

Ringback tones replace the sound of a phone ringing, as heard by the caller, with music or prose selected, and paid for, by the callee. They've been around for years but never taken off because, it seemed, that punters thought the idea was a bit naff.

But Real reckons the problem isn't that people don't like ringback tones, only that they have no idea what they are. Apparently 20 per cent of existing subscribers signed up the minute they learnt that such a service was available, and usage levels map well to customer awareness. With T-Mobile and 3 doing nothing to promote the capability, however, UK subscribers hover around 0.7 per cent.

Worse than doing nothing: it's very hard to find any reference to the services on web sites or when enquiring by phone, almost as though they're embarrassed by the service, though one representative did tell us they liked it 'cos customers sign up for a subscription and then forget they've got it.

So Real reckons ringback tones have failed to take hold in the UK 'cos no-one has heard of them, but we can't help wondering if it's not equally likely that no-one wants them, or perhaps a happy combination of the two. ®

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