Rio Sings Toll-Free Calling Tune 

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12:00 PM Jun. 24, 1999 PT

Add free phone calls to the Rio Internet music player's list of undocumented features. Availability may vary.

The trick, which has also been used by PalmPilot owners, marries an old technique to a digital-era device.

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By playing MP3-encoded tones that sound like coin deposits, the Rio will allow free long-distance dialing on some older US and Canadian pay phones.

These hackers, known as phreakers, have pulled this ploy for years, using custom-built devices to fool some phones into believing that callers have deposited quarters.

The same result is also achieved using easily obtained parts from Radio Shack, or even a recordable Hallmark greeting card. These kinds of devices are known by phreakers as "red boxes."

By playing a series of tones at a precise frequency, which are muted in the handset speaker, "boxers" fool phone company computers into believing that the caller is depositing coins, allowing for illegal long-distance dialing.

A Canadian Web site contains a set of instructions for converting the Rio to the same application.

"If you are one of the MP3 lovers out there that own a Diamond Rio (gotta love these things), you can easily convert them to a nice Redbox for free calls," the author explains.

The site explains how to use software to generate tones at specific frequencies, telling a phone that nickels, dimes, or quarters are being deposited. It details the frequencies necessary for both Canadian and US phones.

The author of the page also warns that the process may be a criminal offense. "Don't do it," he writes. "This information is presented because it is common and readily available."

Possession of a red box is a felony in the United States, but the extensive network of device hackers notes that companies cannot be held legally responsible for the various applications of their devices.

Bell Canada has installed red box-proof phones in about 85 percent of its territory, which covers the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Related Wired Links:

Making All Music Net Music

Rio Rolls Over RIAA

Rio Goes Crypto

Mighty Rio Now a Two-Way Street

Rio Debut Back on Track

Blame it on Rio

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