MMS: The People's Party
By Eric Lin, Wed Oct 22 03:15:00 GMT 2003

The world is pumped and primed for an MMS revolution, but it's not going to happen until the carriers meet the demands of users.

The popularity of MMS and picture messaging, especially in the United States, has almost exclusively been a function of an application off the carriers' networks- moblogging. The lack of interoperability between carriers makes it difficult for users to send pictures to each other, so we send post them to websites instead.

An article in Telephony Online (link courtesy of Smart Mobs) takes an interesting view of this unlikely evolution. SMS evolved strictly within the confines of the operators, and while it has enjoyed immense popularity, it cannot extend beyond the boundries of the mobile networks. Carriers have control over who can message whom and what kind of premium services content providers can offer and how much they can charge. The users cannot seize control of SMS and repurpose for anything other than its original intentions.

Because MMS extends to the internet and is not just limited to the phone networks, it is a more powerful tool in the hands of users. They can develop unexpected applications for it, and it is these unplanned uses that often create the next "killer app." However the article warns that operators must become comfortable with the concept of letting users and content providers determine how MMS is used, as opposed to directing it themselves as they have done in the past.

In addition to changing the way they think, operators must also change the way they bill. According to an Ericsson representative interviewed, operators must first come to billing agreements that complete full network interoperability for MMS. Once that hurdle is cleared, the next step will be for networks to devise revenue sharing systems similar to DoCoMo's i-Mode billing structure. These financial hurdles may be easier to clear than the change from top-down to bottom-up content creation, since they don't demand a total philosophical change from carriers. However the networks need to respond to the way customers are using their services in time, otherwise valuable opportunities could be lost.

One expert is quoted as saying there should be widespread MMS interoperability by 2006 or 2007. Will that be too late?