3GSM - Still looking for the 'killer app'

After investing hundreds of millions of dollars in multimedia messaging infrastructure, the mobile phone industry is still looking for the "killer app," the overwhelmingly useful application that will drive usage of it, according to Don Listwin, chief executive officer of mobile Internet software developer Openwave Systems Inc.

MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) is sold by network operators as a way to send electronic postcards, but users aren't buying it, he said in the opening keynote presentation at the 3GSM World Congress on Monday. Openwave is based in Redwood City, California.

"We have got to find more interesting applications to put on MMS. We (as an industry) have spent half a billion dollars on the infrastructure and it isn't quite interoperable yet; we have to work on that," Listwin said.

While almost any GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phone can exchange text messages using SMS (Short Message Service) with almost any other GSM phone, on any GSM network, different operators have implemented MMS in different ways.

One mistake the industry is making is to sell MMS as a service in itself, Listwin said.

"Today's picture messaging phones have as many as six messaging services: SMS, MMS, the network operator's e-mail, other e-mail, instant messaging and voice," but users don't want to have to make technical decisions about which one to use: they are just interested in sending their message, he said.

"As an industry, we have to get focused on users," he said. Operators must ask themselves, "What's going to grab that user?"

A few years ago, PDAs (personal digital assistants) were seen as the way to put access to sophisticated services in users' pockets -- but according to some analysts' estimates, sales of PDAs fell last year, said Listwin.

"Now, it's all about phones, 400 million to 500 million of them every year," Listwin said.

To grab users' attention using packet-based data services over such simple terminals will mean moving some of that sophistication found in PDAs out into the network.

"The packet transition is going to be all about putting intelligence into the network," Listwin said.

The 3GSM World Congress runs through Friday at the Palais des Congrès in Cannes, France.

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