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Verizon Makes Picture Pact With Sprint

Camera phones have gone from a novelty to standard in a just a couple of years, but if you want to zip pictures from your phone to a friend's handset you can't unless your respective carriers have laid the groundwork.

Verizon Wireless and Sprint did just that today, announcing a multimedia message pact for their combined 70 million customers. Mobile 365 will provide the interoperability service for Verizon Wireless, while VeriSign will handle the task for Sprint. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

"There are no standardized systems for photo messaging; they all have their little nuances that make it difficult for them to talk to each other," Jill Aldort, a senior consultant with InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, told internetnews.com.

Beyond technical issues, hammering out billing and revenue sharing can be an even more complex process, Aldort said. Despite these obstacles, picture and video messaging is expected to increase along with the sale of camera phones.

InfoTrends/CAP Ventures estimates that worldwide camera phone shipments will grow from 178 million in 2004 to more than 860 million units in 2009. By 2009, camera phones are expected to account for 89 percent of all mobile phone handsets shipped, the research firm said.

In addition to customers wanting the convenience of camera handsets, mobile phone manufacturers and carriers have offered a variety of discounts and promotions to bring prices down, Aldort said.

For Sprint, which is increasing its mobile presence by buying Nextel , the photo messaging agreement follows similar deals with Cingular, Bell Mobility and T-Mobile USA.

"The goal was to have interoperability agreements with three other major players at the end of the year," Leslie Stafford, a Sprint spokeswoman, said.

Stafford said the Overland Park, Kan., carrier's users sent 300 million picture or video messages last year, before any interoperability agreements were in place. Most customers opt for the $15 per month unlimited usage service, she said.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon and Vodafone , has negotiated multimedia messaging agreements with Cingular, Leap Wireless and U.S. Cellular.

In a statement, a company executive said he expects the agreements to increase usage, just like interoperability deals did for short message service .

Aldort expects that carriers will begin looking to sign deals with overseas providers once they lock in deals in the United States.