US carriers team up on MMS

US wireless operators have created a plan for MMS (Multimedia Messaging Services) interoperability across networks, the Cellular...

US wireless operators have created a plan for MMS (Multimedia Messaging Services) interoperability across networks, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) has announced.

The carriers have agreed on a set of guidelines for interoperability of MMS, which allows mobile phone users add digital photos, sounds, video and other rich content to messages they send from one data-capable phone to another, said Steve Largent, president and chief executive officer of the CTIA.

The group expects MMS interoperability to be established by the end of this year, Largent said at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment trade show in San Francisco.

Interoperability should drive up the use of MMS in the US just as the establishment of interoperable SMS has done, Largent said. Though the US has lagged in other parts of the world in SMS, usage here has soared with interoperability, he said.

So far, MMS interoperability in the US has only been established between Cingular Wireless and AT&T Wireless Services, and users of other services have not been able consistently to send rich content to each other's phones, according to Chris Pearson, president of 3G Americas, an organisation of GSM carriers.

The keynote session also featured insights into the provision and selling of mobile multimedia services from two industry executives.

The next big drivers of mobile phone use will be multimedia and 3D gaming, said Paul Jacobs, president of Qualcomm's wireless and internet group. General-purpose phones, not specialised handheld gaming platforms, will be the most popular platform for games, he added.

"It [may be] game over for the handheld gaming device," Jacobs said. Qualcomm-based phones are mass-market devices that can bring sophisticated gaming to a handset that exceeds the expectations of many average users, he said.

But as users play mobile games for an hour a day or so, battery life will be a growing problem, Jacobs added. Qualcomm is addressing that through its acquisition last month of Iridigm Display, a maker of reflective displays. Screens made with the reflective technology take advantage of existing light, reducing backlight power requirements in both dim and brightly-lit environments, extending battery life by four times in well-lighted places, he said.

Mobile operators have done a good job marketing handsets and economical service plans but have fallen short in explaining multimedia services to subscribers, said Graeme Ferguson, Vodafone Group Services's executive head of content development.

Operators need to identify their target markets, produce content that speaks to those consumers and make it easy to access and use, Ferguson said. With its Vodafone Live service, launched two years ago and now serving 19.8 million customers of Vodafone-affiliated carriers in 21 countries, his carrier focused on males aged 18 to 24 and delivered basic services such as games, news, radio, sports and chat.

Despite the need for carriers to deliver attractive content packages, the mobile content market cannot reach its full potential size without giving subscribers a way to reach third-party providers outside the "walled garden" of proprietary content, Ferguson added.

Stephen Lawson and Tom Krazit write for IDG News Service

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