AT&T: iPhones to Get MMS by Sept. 25
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Long sought-after Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) support is coming to the Apple iPhone 3G and 3GS by the end of the month, courtesy of a software update.
That's likely to be good news for critics, who have lambasted -- and sued -- AT&T over its lack of support for MMS -- even though the feature is supported in the iPhone's hardware.
AT&T, the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, began facing criticism from some iPhone owners over its failure to support MMS beginning in mid-June, when the 3GS and its iPhone OS 3.0 launched. During the run-up to the 3GS launch, Apple had touted MMS -- a common feature available on other phones -- as a key enhancement to the iPhone, enabling users to more easily send photos and video and audio files from their devices.
Partially as a result, the carrier and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) are today facing several class-action lawsuits that charge the companies misrepresented the iPhone's capability to support MMS.
AT&T, for its part, had said the feature would be available by the "end of summer."
That makes AT&T's upcoming release a few days behind that deadline, although the carrier said it has been busily improving its network infrastructure to ensure a quality user experience.
"We've been working for the past several months to prepare our systems and network to ensure the best possible experience with MMS when it launches -- and that launch date is: September 25 for iPhone 3G and 3GS customers," the company said in a statement. "MMS will be enabled through a software update on that day."
"We know that iPhone users will embrace MMS. The unique capabilities and high usage of the iPhone's multimedia capabilities required us to work on our network MMS architecture to carry the expected record volumes of MMS traffic and ensure an excellent experience from Day One," the company said. "We appreciate your patience as we work toward that end."
AT&T also said that it's trying hard to cope with what it described as an explosive growth in the amount of mobile data it has to carry across its network.
"Wireless use on our network has grown an average of 350 percent year-over-year for the past two years, and is projected to continue at a rapid pace in 2009 and beyond. The volume of smartphone data traffic the AT&T network is handling is unmatched in the wireless industry," the company said in its statement. "We want you to know that we're working relentlessly to innovate and invest in our network to anticipate this growth in usage and to stay ahead of the anticipated growth in data demand, new devices and applications for years to come."
It's unclear whether the MMS update will assuage critics over the carrier's inability to support another iPhone feature, tethering -- which enables PC users to connect their systems to the Internet using the iPhone's connection.
AT&T has previously said that it plans to enable tethering at some point in the future, though the feature will not be part of its Sept. 25 update.
Controversy also erupted earlier this year over AT&T's prices for exchanging older iPhones for the newer 3GS. The outcry prompted the company to relent to consumer demand and offer an alternative for current iPhone users who qualified.
Additionally, customers trying to activate their new phones after launch experienced long delays, resulting in Apple issuing an apology and credits to the iTunes music store.
Meanwhile, AT&T has also been the target of criticism for what iPhone owners say is spotty coverage, and has tried to placate them with capital expenditures aimed at increasing data speeds and improving dropped-call rates in metropolitan areas.
The two companies are also the subject of federal government inquiries into the role of exclusive carrier partnerships and how those impact industry competition and services provided to consumers.
Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.