Why Is Interoperability Still An Issue?
By Carlo Longino, Tue Oct 26 22:15:00 GMT 2004

The trade group of US mobile operators says an MMS interoperability group has come up with some guidelines that will let carriers interconnect their multimedia messaging systems "over time." Will they never learn?


The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association is hailing the agreement as a "landmark pact", but it's really quite underwhelming. Landmark would have been saying all US carriers are now interconnected, but all that's happened is a group that convened back in May to identify "a common feature set that could be supported by all participating carriers" has developed some sort of framework to technically facilitate interop. The carriers must now iron out deals with each other to connect their networks.

Two points immediately jump out -- was MMS not standard enough, and what's the difference from the guidelines other US trade groups issued nearly six months ago?

It's unbelievable that interoperability and interconnection is still a concern, not just for MMS, but for newer services like push-to-talk and video calling. Operators seem to think that they have more to gain by locking these services down to their own networks, presumably in an attempt to make people buy service from the same carriers as their friends and family, than by engendering the development of the services as a whole by making it possible to communicate via these new services with any user.

Call it fax-machine syndrome: somebody had to buy the first fax machine, but they of course didn't have anybody to fax. But this is even worse -- imagine if faxes couldn't be transmitted across international borders, or from the landline network of one telco to another. That would make faxing fairly worthless. While some mobile operators are taking steps such as offering PC applications to let computer users carry out video calls with 3G users, there's little doubt that interoperability, or the lack thereof, will continue to plague mobile services.

With MMS uptake underwhelming in many places, logic would dictate that operators would do anything they could to support the struggling service, and for those that haven't, one step is implementing interop immediately. But the lesson for future services is that trying to lock groups of users to your network by walling them off from their friends and contacts on other networks doesn't do anybody any good.