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Ring tone upstart calls Nextel customers

Zingy broke into the ring tone business in 2001 using an open door on carriers' networks to distribute free tones. Today, Zingy is selling ring tones to Nextel customers.

A ring tone company that two years ago was seeding the market by hitching a free ride on a U.S. carrier's network is now selling tones to Nextel Communications subscribers, the two companies announced Thursday.

New York-based Zingy began to offer its catalog of 2,500 tones to Nextel subscribers that own Motorola i95cl and i90c handsets. The tones sell for $2 each.

Most U.S. carriers now sell ring tones and are using companies like Zingy to usher in a new breed of better-sounding tones in the hope of prodding sales figures upward. Sales of ring tones, which are popular in Europe, generated between $500 million and $1 billion in revenue in 2002, according to research firm the Informa Group. The figures include a U.S. market that has been lackadaisical at best in downloading these 15-second snippets of well-known melodies, which include everything from the theme song to TV's "Bewitched" to Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" to the Troggs' "Wild Thing."

New ring tones from Zingy and other providers can generate two different notes at the same time, creating the harmonies missing from most currently available ring tones. The new, richer sounding tones are "an important opportunity for growth," said Peter Aloumanis, Motorola vice president and general manager. Motorola is supplying Nextel with the two handsets.

The ring tones can be downloaded at Nextel's Web site. The tones will also be offered through other Zingy partner sites, including MSN. Financial details of the deal between Nextel and Zingy were not disclosed.

The arrangement reached with Nextel helps to further legitimize Zingy, a company that began distributing ring tones for free in January 2001. At the time, Zingy and a handful of other ring tone providers found an open door on wireless carriers' networks that let them hitch a free ride for their ring tones.

Ironically, carriers helped create the industry because they wanted to give people an easy way to let anyone with an Internet connection send a text message to a cell phone for free. The carriers created these "message centers" on their networks to route the text messages. The free ring tone site operators quickly developed ways to use the message centers to send the ring tones.

In fact, Zingy began using these same message centers to distribute ring tones to some AT&T Wireless subscribers about five or six months before AT&T Wireless launched its own ring tone download offerings.

Both carriers and the recording industry took notice. Carriers acknowledged that giving away ring tones ate into their own ring-tone selling business plans. The recording industry began weeding out those ring tone sellers that were distributing the song snippets without paying royalties.

Zingy avoided litigation by reaching agreements with the major recording companies. It now claims to offer royalties whenever it sells any of its 2,500 tones. It also began charging for ring tones in the second half of 2002.

Nextel is Zingy's first carrier partnership, according to a Zingy representative.