MMS breaks out across Asia-Pacific

Mobile operators in Australia and Singapore have moved ahead with offering multimedia messaging service (MMS), looking to maximise data revenues while waiting for the right time to start rolling out 3G (third-generation) mobile services.

Australia's two largest mobile carriers Telstra and Optus announced the launch of MMS services Thursday, as did Singapore's second-largest mobile operator Mobile One Asia (M1).

MMS is a multimedia version of SMS (short messaging service) which allows users to send messages containing photographs, animation, voice and music between specially-equipped mobile phones, or from a mobile phone to an e-mail address. If the recipient of an MMS message does not have an MMS-equipped phone, they can be directed to a Web site where the multimedia message can be viewed. MMS runs on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks equipped with GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).

Optus said that businesses as well as consumers will benefit from the ability to send multimedia messages. Allen Lew, managing director of Optus Mobile cited the example of real estate agents taking digital photos of properties and sending them to potential buyers.

After a one-month free period, Optus will charge A$0.75 per MMS message. It is initially offering two handsets -- Nokia's 7650 model and Ericsson's T68i model. Many more handsets will be available by the end of the year, Lew said in the statement.

Telstra will begin a limited MMS trial next week, using the Nokia 7650, and will launch a commercial service once a wider range of MMS-enabled handsets is available, the company said in a statement. Telstra will use the trial to get customer feedback from customers as to the main benefits of the service, likely applications and pricing options.

M1 plans to charge between S$0.50 (US$0.28) and S$1.20 for each MMS, depending on the message size, for users of both the Nokia and Ericsson phones. Enjoyable content being swapped between users will drive MMS's popularity in Singapore, according to M1 Chief Executive Officer Neil Montefiore.

Optus, a division of Singapore Telecommunications (SingTel), said it expects 25 per cent of its revenue to come from data services by 2005, the company has estimated.

Across Asia, Japan and South Korea are the clear leaders in providing mobile messaging, but use a different standard which conforms with their CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) and PDC (Personal Digital Communications) mobile phone networks.

After Singapore and Australia, Hong Kong is likely to be the next market to launch MMS services sometime later this year, followed by New Zealand and Taiwan, according to analysts at a specialist 3G Web site in the U.K. Relatively early adoption of MMS is also expected in the Philippines and Malaysia, which have seen rapid SMS (short messaging service) take-up, and also in fast-developing parts of China -- Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong Province.

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