In a rare example of co-operation, the rival standards bodies behind the world's two main mobile phone technologies have rushed through technical standards that will ensure American networks can exchange picture messages. The GSM MMS (Multimedia Messaging) standard is in place with over 200 GSM operators around the world and is already used by some CDMA network operators, including the largest - Verizon. However network interoperability between CDMA and GSM networks has remained elusive, obliging users to send pictures, video clips and other media files by email.
What's wrong with this? It's expensive: users typically pay for mobile data by the byte, often buying small monthly allowances, or 'buckets', and sending images eats into the quota. With smartphones equipped with megapixel cameras due later this year, that generate ever larger images, this will become even more expensive. Paying a small 25 to 40 cent fee to send an MMS should be much cheaper, only without the interoperability agreements, users haven't been confident that the MMS will arrive.
The technical standards agreed by the CDMA Development Group and 3G Americas last week cover three areas: routing, relay/server connectivity and some billing issues. Carriers will hope that US users adopt the technology faster than Europeans. In the UK networks began to introduce MMS in early summer 2002, but full interoperability didn't arrive until the following spring.
Although over half of the subscriber base now has MMS capable phones, customers have proved reluctant to embrace the technology. Phones have improved tremendously in terms of capabilities (many new models now capture video), quality and ease of use. Is this enough yet? And have the carriers simply not got the price right, or is this a technology that will never find a use? Don't ask this reporter, who doubted that anyone would ever want a cameraphone. ®