Forum Nokia this week is shipping Mobile Internet Toolkit Version 3.1, enabling development of MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) applications for sending messages between handsets that contain voice, video, graphics, and photos.
The toolkit from the Irving, Texas-based company, which is the application development arm of Nokia Mobile Phones, provides functionality similar to SMS messages. MMS is the telecommunications industry's follow-on to its wildly successful SMS service that generates more than 1 billion messages a month, at 10 cents per message, in Europe. SMS in the United States is not as prevalent but measures in the tens of millions of monthly messages and is growing rapidly, according to many industry analysts.
Carriers will more than likely charge 30 cents per photo for transmitting these messages, according to David Ferris, president of Ferris Research Inc. in San Francisco.
While SMS messages are limited to 160 characters per message, MMS will open up the messaging capabilities in the extreme, allowing users to attach cameras to cell phones, for example, and send photos as well audio clips.
In addition to person-to-person MMS messages, carriers hope to offer machine-to-person services that would include video clips and full audio of breaking headlines from a news service, or graphics from a brokerage house.
Air2Web Inc., a San Francisco-based company that supplies enterprise-level companies such as Delta Air lines Inc., United Parcel Service of America Inc., Holiday Inn, and others with its Mobile Internet Platform also announced this week its completion of MMS trials between Nokia test centers in Dallas and Hong Kong and Air2Web labs in Atlanta.
Air2Web also announced MMS will be integrated into services offered by the Weather Channel which will display graphics of weather forecasts as well as photos of severe weather conditions on cell phones as soon as the 3G roll out from the carriers is complete.
MMS requires high-bandwidth phones using either GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) 2000. Full video and audio are probably a few years away, say the experts.
Nevertheless, Nokia is currently offering an MMS-enabled cell phone, model 7650, which includes a camera, as does Sony Ericcson in its T68i.
While the carriers may be looking for ways to amortize the rollout of 3G technology by offering such services as sending photos with MMS, the jury is still out or whether consumers will opt in, said Ferris. E-mail messages, for example, already allow users to send photos as attachments. However, the real-time quality of a photo sent via MMS message may attract users that are not price sensitive, added Ferris.
Despite support from many industry groups such as the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), the 3G Partnership Program (3GPP), and the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), there may be problems down the road, according to Mike Wehrs, director in the mobile device division at Microsoft Corp.
"We've made proposals to OMA to try and insure we don't end up going down an incompatible path with e-mail systems," said Wehrs.
Wehrs sees the risk that, as it currently stands, MMS proponents are advocating to isolate MMS as a mobile-only application, and that will be confusing to users in how and when to use it.
"A user will wonder if they have to send the same message via e-mail, SMS, and MMS. The overall path should be one of messaging, not a separate and distinct [mobile wireless] path," said Wehrs.
The Nokia MMS toolkit is available as a free download at www.Forum.Nokia.com/tools.