There is secret stuff out there that wireless phone companies don’t want you to know about! Today I reveal one such secret!

I just got a cellphone. I’ve never had one before, but I found a pre-paid deal that basically gives you a phone, 3 months of free service, and $5 for your trouble. All that with no contract! How could I turn that down?

So anyway, the phone came yesterday and I activated it last night. It seems like a pretty good deal, but the custom ringtone situation is crap.

AT&T wants to charge people $0.99 per song to purchase ringtones through their website. Absolutely ridiculous.

I did some research, and apparently Nokia has developed a messaging format that allows service providers to send special commands to your phone via SMS. (Luckily this pre-paid phone comes with unlimited incoming text messages, or all of my testing would have cost me big time!)

If everybody knew about these codes, the wireless service providers would lose money on all those ringtones they’re selling, and Nokia would be in hot water with all of them! So! It is up to average Joes like you and me to figure out what’s going on.

When you buy a ringtone from AT&T’s website (or anyone else’s,) they’re actually sending a short SMS text message to your phone. The difference is that this message is encoded and prefixed by //SCKL. When the phone sees that //SCKL header, it says “AH-HAH! This is not a normal text message. This is probably a ringtone or a phone company logo for me to display. I will not display it as a text message, but I will treat it specially.” The phone then looks at the rest of the message to see what it just received. If it’s a ringtone, the screen will say “Ringtone received!” and it’ll let you listen to it, save it, whatever.

Most of the free ringtones that you find online appear in RTTTL (aka: Nokring) formats. I can’t speak for all phones, but my Nokia 5165 needs to receive ringtones in “Nokia Binary” format. I believe most recent Nokias can handle this format as well.

Sooo…how do you convert RTTTL ringtones to Nokia Binary? You can actually use this free web-based tool to convert between several different formats: http://cellphones.about.com/library/bl_rc.htm.

Once I’ve got the binary conversion, I send an email to my phone that basically looks like this:

To: 310xxxyyyy@mobile.att.net

Subject:

Body:

//SCKL1581 024A3A5505519585B40400…

The body of the message has to be one complete line, with no blank lines above or below it. There is one space separating the command code from the data package.

“1581” after the SCKL indicates that this is a ringtone. Everything else is the ringtone itself (the title’s encoded in there too.)

That’s the format for a relatively short ringtone. However, there is a limit on the size of any SMS message that you can send. If the ringtone that you want is too large to fit, it needs to be broken up into several smaller messages. In that case, the messages will be formatted differently:

Message 1:

//SCKL15811581010301 024A3A614DD5C195C93585…

Message 2:

//SCKL15811581010302 A0420620A2B03103502102D…

Message 3:

//SCKL15811581010303 8308B0000

Notice that the SCKL1581 is still there, but it is now accompanied by a string ending in 301, 302, and 303. That’s to indicate message #1 of 3, 2 of 3, or 3 of 3. There’s also still one space in the entire string, but its been pushed to the right a little to make room for the multipart data.

You won’t receive notification of a new ringtone until all of the parts of a multipart message arrive on your phone.

OKAY! Now you are empowered! You can stick it to the man and get your ringtones for free! BOOYAH!

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