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So why isn't Nokia part of the EMS standard?
Comings and goings
We reported earlier today that Alcatel, Ericsson, Motorola and Siemens had all signed up to a new enhanced SMS standard, called EMS, that would allow for pictures, tunes and animations to be sent to phones.
They hope that EMS will become the common standard and will act as a step-stone to the upcoming MMS standard that will enable attachments to be sent to phones, in much the same way as email works now.
However, extremely conspicuous by its absence is the world's leading mobile manufacturer, Nokia. Nokia leads the field by a long way. It is also a member of the standards board that has come up with the EMS standard - 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project). 3GPP has been very successful in creating universal standards such as GSM and the original SMS standard.
Nokia has two main explanations. First, it says, it already has its own standard that can do just as much as EMS - Smart Messaging - and it's had it since 1997. "We have hundreds of millions of phones out there, all with Smart Messaging. It has been tremendously successful," a spokesman told us. It is also open source and free to anyone that wants it. As such, there are no plans to introduce EMS on any Nokia phones.
He's right. Smart Messaging allows for almost exactly the same things as EMS, although it cannot underline or bold text for example. It can however do things like configure phones from a distance. Sadly, they are not compatible with each other, raising the prospect of a standards war: the biggest company against a consortium of smaller companies.
This is not only unwise - the real success of SMS was in its ubiquity - but Nokia at least doesn't think that will happen. It is also the second reason why it's not bothered about EMS.
And that is the forthcoming MMS standard that will allow for even more flexibility and (ugh) usability. This standard is also being developed by 3GPP but with the advantage that everyone, including Nokia, has signed up to it.
Nokia reckons the MMS standard will start being written into phones at the start of next year. So, the way it sees it, it's not worth subscribing to a new standard and spending a load of money building it into new phones when not only can Nokia offer the same services now but EMS will be obsolete in a year's time. A fair point you may say.
Ericsson, Motorola and Siemens are, unsurprisingly, not in agreement. The idea is that they all work together on standardising phones and then compete on price and service. Everyone wins. They are also happy to accept Nokia if it wants to join up to EMS. As for the claims that Smart Messaging is also free and open source, one company spokesman questioned whether this has been the case until recently. "I think they only made it open last year," he told us. "But I'll have to check that."
We are still waiting on a number of people to get back to us regarding small points, but already the situation seems clear. MMS may be ready for next year, but will the demand and networks be up to the job? The term two-and-a-half G cropped up when mobile operators realised that this advanced phone technology stuff was not as easy as they thought.
EMS is the manufacturers' equivalent. There's good, usable technology not incorporated into phones at the moment - and that is a wasted revenue source. You only have to look at the money SMS has made companies. If you can use EMS to send pictures and tunes, you can be sure people will. And they'll pay for the privilege.
Meanwhile, Nokia can't see the point of it and you can hardly blame it. Are we looking at a standard war? No, unlikely. But when/if EMS takes off and MMS is still in the wings, it will annoy people. There is the potential for this to upset the balance of power in the manufacturing industry and bring Nokia down a notch or two, but we wouldn't bank on it.
Alan Pyne, a director at analyst firm Schema, is in agreement with Nokia. "EMS is only going to be a short-term standard and there's no doubt it's going to be replaced by MMS," he told us. "MMS is more feature and content rich.
"A cynic would say that this is just a way of shifting more handsets." Now would Ericsson at al ever doing anything like that? ®