RealTime IT News

Move Over SMS, Here Comes MMS

Short message service, or SMS as commonly known, has taken the market by storm. It has become more than a fad and is now a way of life. And as the way of technology goes, something bigger and better is about to hit the market - Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS).

With MMS, users will be able to send and receive messages complete with text and pictures. Examples of multimedia content delivered and received via MMS include animated pictures complete with sound files, digital photographs, voice recordings on top of the usual text and even 'live' traffic, sports and other entertainment reports.

On the other hand, SMS is only capable of delivering text messages of up to 160 characters. Hence, industry experts insist MMS will go farther and prove its true potential and that it is not mere hype.

As Chye Hoon Pin, senior director of SingTel's Mobile Consumer Products notes, "With the integration of digital camera and mobile phone, we expect to see high usage on forwarding photo images."

The director of Nokia, Asia Pacific Imaging Business Unit, Mauro Montanaro adds that "MMS is a natural migration path from SMS ... MMS is building on the established usage patterns and model of SMS by adding new functions and content types which consumers can readily understand and adopt easily." For consumers, MMS-enabled services are potentially a lot more exciting and will enhance a consumers' communication experience.

Also in agreement that MMS will, in due time, achieve critical mass in Asia, is CMG's Asia Pacific sales director, Hoong See Chye. He adds that confidence in the success of multimedia messaging lies in the proven revenue generating service of SMS.

Huge Revenue Stream
A survey conducted by Ovum showed that annual consumer revenues from MMS are set to reach about US$70 billion worldwide in 2007. An estimated US$31 billion will come from person-to-person messaging while US$39 billion will come from machine-to-person messaging. With such rosy predictions, it is no wonder that mobile operators are jumping onto this cash cow.

MMS has already been launched in many European markets - the UK, Norway, Germany, Austria, Finland, Spain and Portugal, just to name a few. In Asia, Globe Telecom in the Philippines launched its MMS service in July. In Singapore, MobileOne (M1) and SingTel (who will also be launching MMS roaming service to enable users who are away from Singapore to send MMS postcards to loved ones back home) have already launched the service. This service will be free to users until sometime in September and October respectively. Meanwhile, StarHub has announced that it will offer MMS by the fourth quarter of 2002.

Challenges
While MMS has its promises, it will not come cheap. According to CMG Wireless Data Solution's Frank Lodewick, an MMS is on average, 3-4 times the price of SMS.

M1, for instance, has said that its users will be charged US$0.30 to US$0.70 per MMS, depending on file size. This is 10 times the price of its SMS charges. But Chua Swee Kiat, M1's general manager for corporate communications, comments that the price per SMS in many European countries is even higher than that of Singapore's, which if multiplied by 3-4 times the price of an SMS, you would get prices much higher than M1's base rate of US$0.30 per MMS.

The price of an MMS-enabled handset, which could easily cost four times more than a non-MMS enabled phone, could also serve as a barrier - along with other issues such as limited content and lack of interoperability between service providers in the provision of MMS, as highlighted by Hoong of CMG Asia Pacific.

While users in Asia are able to send SMS to any SMS-enabled phones regardless of the service providers they are with, MMS does not function the same way. For instance, if SingTel customers send MMS to non-SingTel customers who are equipped with MMS phones, the latter will only receive a SMS text notifying them to retrieve the MMS from its e-ideas Website.

But given the enthusiasm already prevalent in the market, these challenges could be addressed within a short time.