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Verizon: Wait for dial tone, punch in number, rock out

Verizon Wireless service lets users treat people who call them to music rather than the sound of a ringing phone.

A new Verizon Wireless service lets subscribers select custom "ring-back" tones, so when a friend calls, he or she can listen to a clip of a popular tune, rather than the standard sound of a ringing phone.

The ring-back tone is what callers hear between the time they finish entering the digits and the time the call is answered. In the United States, these tones are rarely customized, so they usually sound the same no matter whom is being called.

Verizon Wireless' specialized ring-back tones are initially available to subscribers in Southern California and in Sacramento for 99 cents per month. In addition, customers must pay $1.99 per year for each ring-back tone they choose. The service was launched Tuesday.

By 2005, the carrier plans to extend the service, called Ringback Tones, to subscribers in other regions.

"The first time you call somebody who has Ringback Tones on their phone, it's a nice surprise," Fran Shammo, president of Verizon Wireless' West Area, said in a statement. "Just imagine listening to a cool song when you call someone on their wireless phones instead of hearing the same ring we've heard all these years."

Verizon Wireless has procured the technology for the service from South Korean carrier SK Telecom.

Subscribers can choose from a catalog of more than 2,200 songs in 13 genres. The music is supplied by Warner Music Group and Sony BMG Music Entertainment.

Subscribers can set different ring-back tones for different callers, different groups of callers or different times of day, the company said.

Though this type of service is still taking off in the United States, specialized ring-back tones are already popular in other regions. For instance, in Asia several cell phone service providers have been providing this option to their customers since mid-2003.