What do outgoing phone rings mean?
December 14, 2008 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Usually, when you call somebody's cell phone and hear a beep after each ring, it means they are on the phone with somebody else. Are there any other ring indicators like that?

I've heard extra-long rings or double-rings, for example, so I was just curious if that meant something, as well.
posted by timory to Technology (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'll assume you're in the US:

First, I don't know that the beep-after-ring means call waiting. I have a couple people whose numbers always beep after each ring as I call them.

Next, extra-long and double-rings.

As far as I can suss out, the first ring as you call a cellphone is "made" by the system itself as it tracks down the subscriber's phone (unless you get dumped to voicemail). That is, the first ring you hear is NOT heard by the receiver, as the system hasn't located and routed yet. If the system has trouble locating the person*, then the system will generate more rings (that you hear) as it continues looking.

You get the double-ring/extra-long ring when the locate/route process takes longer than a single ring, but less time than two rings plus appropriate spacing. Essentially, the system finds the receiver, and immediately connects you, which initiates a new ring... which, to you, sounds like a very long ring if it comes in the middle of the previous ring, or a double ring if it comes in the space after but without proper timing.

*It may have trouble locating the subscriber because they're in a low-signal area, or a high-congestion area, or because the system itself is experiencing high volume. This, however, is different from positively saying "this subscriber is unavailable", as is the case when you're not on the network at all.
posted by Netzapper at 7:08 PM on December 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I always thought that a beep+ring meant there were messages waiting in voicemail, on cellphones just like on regular phones which use the carrier's vm. When your battery's out it's a quick way to tell if you need to check your voicemail.
posted by anadem at 9:15 PM on December 14, 2008

A fast busy means all the trunk lines are busy rather than your callee's line.
posted by Mitheral at 9:34 PM on December 14, 2008

the first ring as you call a cellphone is "made" by the system itself as it tracks down the subscriber's phone ... That is, the first ring you hear is NOT heard by the receiver, as the system hasn't located and routed yet.

To expand on Netzapper:

At least in the United States (and in other countries with digital switching systems), the "ringing" you hear is never created by the called party's handset. The sound is known as a ringback tone and is why you can sometimes call people (mostly on cell phones) and hear music or another country's ring pattern instead of the normal tone. These tones will almost never be in sync with what the called party is hearing. The odd-sounding tones during hand-off Netzapper referenced are usually when the call is routed through a tandem, and the O-MSC takes over generating the tone.

(Phone Geek fun: call someone via a landline long distance who has a customized ringback tone; you'll usually hear riii-*tone* as your local switch generates the initial ring, but then hands off to the called party switch.)
posted by fireoyster at 11:44 PM on December 14, 2008

In Britain an extra long, unpaired ring indicates that the person you're calling is abroad.

If a British friend's cellphone gives me a long ring, I usually hang up pronto, since they're more likely to get billed for the call or to be in a different time zone and not appreciate being woken up.
posted by the latin mouse at 3:06 AM on December 15, 2008

Not scientifically proven, but it seems to me like calling other cell phones with my same carrier results in a "beep" along with the standard ring tone. I'm on Verizon, if that helps. I only hear the "beep" with the ring tone when I call other Verizon users. Maybe that indicates that it's a free call.
posted by al_fresco at 8:56 PM on December 15, 2008

I'm on Verizon, too, and I only get the ring-beep if the person I'm calling is on the line already. Otherwise it's generally just a normal ring.
posted by timory at 6:45 AM on December 16, 2008

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