What is a distinctive ring on a fax machine?

My fax machine has an option for “distinctive ring,” but I can’t figure out what it does or how to make it work. Help?

Distinctive ring is actually called a lot of different things, depending on the telephone company and fax machine brand. It’s also referred to as Personalized Ring, Custom Ringing, Smart Ring, and Ring Master. It all comes down to the same idea: With distinctive ring, you have a single phone line that’s split into two numbers–one for your phone and one for your fax machine. Each number is given its own distinctive ring pattern. When the phone number rings, the fax machine recognizes it and doesn’t interrupt. But when the fax machine pattern happens, the fax machine switches on and accepts the fax (usually within two cycles of ringing).

Unfortunately, this service doesn’t come bundled with the fax machine, which is why you can’t get it to work. You’ll need to purchase the service through your telephone company first (usually $5 or more per month) and make sure they’ve activated it before you program your fax machine. In some states, carriers are phasing out the distinctive ring service.

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