Several aspects of pancreatic beta cell function display marked oscillations even during continuous stimulation with a stable glucose concentration. This review article focuses on the characteristics, mechanisms and potential roles of the oscillations of cytoplasmic Ca2+ concentration [(Ca2+]i) in beta cells. These oscillations result from an intermittent influx of Ca2+ through voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels activated by periodic depolarizations of the plasma membrane. In each islet, [Ca2+]i oscillations are synchronous in all beta cells and trigger similar oscillations of insulin secretion. Changes in [Ca2+]i are thought to play a minute-to-minute regulatory role in secretion, but the effectiveness of Ca2+ on the secretory process is markedly influenced by various amplification mechanisms. It is still unclear whether the oscillations of [Ca2+]i reflect functional advantages for the beta cell itself or are simply necessary to ensure oscillations of plasma insulin levels through pulsatile secretion of the hormone.