Messaging to the max...
Is multimedia messaging service (MMS) SMS on steroids? Is that even a good thing? Ovum senior analyst John Delaney clarifies matters...
In January, the announcement of a large contract between Ericsson and Vodafone confirmed what many in the mobile industry believe - 2002 will be the year of MMS, in Europe.
Although the value of the deal has not been disclosed, it involves the deployment of service infrastructure by nine of Vodafone's European operating companies. A contract of this size is a clear indication of how important MMS will be as a component of mobile operators' plans to fuel further growth by building up their data services businesses.
MMS is a cross-industry standard for sending messages between mobile phones that can contain an unlimited amount of text. Users can also enhance the emotional content of their messages with multimedia content such as pictures, audio and video.
Like short messaging service (SMS), MMS messages are composed on the phone and sent directly to the receiving phone. From the user's viewpoint, the relationship between this new standard and the hugely successful SMS is clear. MMS does everything that SMS can plus a lot more besides.
MMS requires a different business model from SMS
From the mobile operator's perspective, to consider MMS as a kind of SMS on steroids can be a dangerously misleading idea. When it comes to providing MMS services, fundamentally different business models from those followed for SMS will be needed. The principal ways in which MMS changes the mobile messaging game are that:
- people will demand content to add to their messages
- MMS will need to interoperate with other messaging services
- messages can vary greatly in size and content
- there will be a higher emotional attachment to message content
- non person-to-person applications will be increasingly important
No 3G killer application
MMS is an IP-based messaging standard, using the application and content standards that pervade the internet. Nevertheless, MMS has been designed by the mobile industry forums, developed and implemented by the mobile equipment vendors, with the needs of the mobile network operators primarily in mind.
But contrary to some of the vendor hype building up behind it, MMS is not 'the 3G killer application'. For that matter, neither is anything else.
Despite ample evidence of its illusory nature, a great many people in the industry are still desperately seeking the killer application for third-generation (3G) mobile networks. This is understandable, as there is still a large revenue-side hole in the business case for the massive 3G investments to which operators have committed themselves.
Nevertheless, MMS cannot make the 3G business case work by itself - nothing can. MMS usage will take considerable time to build up, and simple SMS will account for the bulk of mobile-to-mobile messages for several years to come.
To make any sense at all, 3G networks have to be general purpose. Unlike a telephone network, which is designed around the demands of a specific service, a 3G network must provide the infrastructure that enables the delivery of many different services to many different customer types. There can be no single killer application in this model. Instead, the revenues which justify the network investment must accumulate from a number of successful services aimed at both mass market and business customers.
Neither MMS, nor anything else, will provide the ROI case for 3G networks all by itself. However, although it is not a killer application, MMS will undoubtedly be one of the most important weapons in a mobile operator's armoury of mass market data services. Vodafone certainly won't be the only operator that we see bringing MMS services to market during the course of this year.
Related Ovum research: MMS and SMS: Multimedia Strategies for Mobile Messaging (This report is out in April 2002)
This research is taken from Mobile@Ovum the Advisory Service.
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