MMS take-up could disappoint

Where de handsets?

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

With the leading handset manufacturer Nokia Corp stridently proclaiming 2002 as the year of Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS), and with forecasts from market research companies such as Ovum Ltd suggesting that the market for MMS will generate $70bn in revenue by 2007, it looks as though MMS is going to be the most important mobile data technology of the next few years.

However, many participants in the market could be overstating both the potential usage and user take-up rates of MMS. One market participant, Timo Laaksonen, the CEO of Helsinki, Finland-based messaging management software company FirstHop, has his doubts about whether MMS take up will really happen as fast as is being suggested.

"MMS is quite high on the investment agenda of mobile operators... But SMS (short messaging services) took seven to eight years to really take off," he said. The problem is that mobile handset manufacturers have not even started seeding the market with MMS capable handsets. The first handsets will be available in volume from mid-2002, and even so not every phone will come with MMS capabilities from this time.

Using current handset delivery schedules, this means that only 25% of subscribers will have MMS capabilities in three to four years time, according to Laaksonen. If replacement cycle times for mobile handsets continue to extend in Europe, this could push these times out even further.

This means that estimates from research companies such as Ovum could be far from accurate. With only about 30% of European mobile subscribers owning phones with SMS built in by 2005, it is hard to see where the $70bn market, of which $29bn is in Europe, will have come from, just two years after.

Using SMS as a model, the first SMS-capable phones started hitting the market in the very early 1990s, and by the end of the decade SMS had reached a critical mass of users, and grew in popularity massively. Laaksonen suggested that the same model could be true for MMS. This means it could be 2009 or later by the time MMS reaches the current level of popularity of SMS services.

But why should a vendor of telecoms messaging management software be so negative? Laaksonen said that until MMS technology reaches a critical number of users (probably somewhere around 50% of mobile handset users), operators should concentrate on alternative uses for the technology, other than straight person-to-person (mobile-to-mobile) messaging. MMS, which bridges a number of the gaps between internet messaging such as email and internet instant messaging, may in fact be most useful in this area first, he predicted.

Alternative usage is for very consumer-focused applications, such as MMS-enabled camera phones to build picture galleries that can then be accessed using the internet. Unless the operators and vendors sort out these early MMS services first, "MMS will have to fight for the air to breathe," said Laaksonen. In fact, he said that established internet messaging standards, which can already be used on mobiles, might be hard to remove if they become entrenched and widely used.

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