Weekly Wrap: The MMS-ing Link
By Carlo Longino, Fri Sep 24 08:15:00 GMT 2004

Consumer MMS usage remains abysmal, while a new use of the technology may spur its marketing adoption, Vodafone delivers its Christmas 3G present, and more...

Another study of MMS usage in the UK came out this week, and the numbers have dropped even more since the Spring. While interoperability has been for the most part solved there, and free MMS promotions have boosted interest in some countries, usability remains a significant concern. Prices may still be too high that consumers are worried about making a "mistake" in composing or sending the message.

One area where MMS has been successful, though, is as a content delivery device. A marketing company is latching onto that idea by incorporating its existing technology, which sends barcodes via SMS for use as tickets or coupons, with MMS. Now, marketers could use the product to send out an MMS with multimedia content and a unique barcode that can be read by existing point-of-sale equipment. It's a compelling product that could lend itself well to several marketing applications.

Vodafone solidified its European 3G plans in a pretty big way this week, announcing 10 handsets it will have on sale in time for the Christmas selling season. Seven of the handsets will be on sale in Japan, underlining the company's emphasis on reversing sluggish sales at its unit there, but all 10 are based on some global standards the carrier came up with, meaning that among other features, all the handsets will work on both the Euro and Japanese 3G networks. It's a significant public challenge by Vodafone to other carriers hoping to launch before the end of the year that it's looking to make a major move with its European 3G consumer launches.

But the data applications 3G promises aren't European users' primary concern, a study reported this week. Price is the most important factor in getting people to use their mobiles more, with coverage a close second. Nearly half said they'd ditch their landlines if mobile carriers cut prices enough, and three-fourths said they'd use their phones more if coverage were better.

Equipment manufacturers have been eyeing Chinese carriers' potential 3G spending, though a report this week attempted to cast some doubt on just how much they'd spend. Reuters cited the likely mandate that one of the expected three Chinese 3G licenses would be for a network based on the domestically developed TD-SCDMA standard, as well as the rise of Chinese network gear vendors as reasons for concern. But analysts countered that the domestic companies don't have the resources to build the networks on their own, and the carriers' need to launch their networks with a decent amount of 3G coverage should ensure plenty of early spending.

Virtual operators have been hot in developed markets, as discount operators look to come in to the market and win users by offering basic services at deeply cut prices. Carriers are generally receptive to selling airtime in bulk to MVNOs, but what happens when their consumer-facing sides conflict with their MVNO customers? As market growth slows, and carriers and MVNOs begin fighting over the same customers, it could cause some serious conflicts.

Opera celebrated the millionth download of its mobile browser this week, proving the real demand for the "real" Web on people's phones. While it's unclear just how many of those downloads turned into purchases, Opera says the browser is by far the most popular Symbian third-party app, and the figure doesn't include the number of copies included with new phones.

Device manufacturer PalmOne released its latest quarterly earnings this week, impressing Wall Street, but the company's lowered expectations more than offset any of the good news. Despite saying smartphones would become the company's focus at the beginning of the year, PalmOne still clings to PDAs, and dropping sales will punish the company's next quarter. The company has announced the successor to its popular Treo 600 device, but the family of Treo products it talked up earlier in the year has failed to materialize, and the Treo 650 is merely an incremental update of the original device, itself developed by Handspring.

Interest in mobile multiplayer games is picking up, with new hardware and software offering developers opportunities to make use of mobile devices' advantage over dedicated portable gaming machines: a wide-area mobile connection. The network connection sets up a new paradigm for game developers to exploit, and it's one that hasn't yet been mastered. While Sony's PSP and Nintendo's GameBoy DS will outsell phone-based game consoles, the companies could be forced to add wide-area connectivity to their devices sooner rather than later.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Peggy Anne Salz takes a look at the impact of real-time mobile technology on the enterprise, while Steve Wallage explains why obstacles to enterprise uptake of mobile services are beginning to disappear, Douglas Rushkoff shares some interesting in advancements in next-generations wireless networks that exist independently of the Internet, and Mark Frauenfelder describes some advances that could make it easier for different wireless devices to communicate with each other.