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MMS Guide

Multimedia is going to be a revolutionary change as far as subscribers are concerned but, for network operators it is best seen as an evolutionary change. It is a natural development and extension of the Short Message Service (SMS) and one which will allow them to leverage the success of the SMS business model as they enter the broadband world of package-switched 2.5G and 3G messaging.

Like SMS, MMS is destined to attract mass-market uptake, particularly among the young who will embrace it enthusiastically as a pervasive and compelling tool of social interaction and entertainment. MMS gives users a whole new repertoire of person-to-person communication possibilities which they can orchestrate themselves and customise at will. As for network operators, we believe that MMS will represent the most important new source of revenue in the GPRS and 3G marketplace.

Messaging market evolution

The Short Message Service (SMS) has been a part of the GSM world since 1992. It allows a maximum of 160 alphanumeric characters to be sent, person-to-person, across low-bandwidth mobile phone networks. Paradoxically, it is the very limitations of text messaging that has contributed to its huge and growing appeal in the youth market, resulting in a comprehensive and ingenious sub-language of abbreviations and characterbased pictograms like the :) happy face and :( sad face.

With SMS, the message, once sent, is normally stored in the operator’s SMS Centre, ready to be picked up by the recipient when he or she next logs on. This process, known as ‘store-and-forward’, is very low-cost for the user because the actual transaction time is so short as there is no need to stay on-line while the message is being delivered by the SMS Centre.

The most recent development in SMS allows users with the appropriate handsets to select special text effects and transmit and receive simple pictures, sounds and animations along with their messages. This is sometimes referred to as Enhanced Message Service (EMS) and it is made possible within the limitations of SMS by a technique called concatenation, a way of linking together a chain of several SMS messages. Although this enhanced service exhibits some multimedia features it still uses existing SMS technology and familiar second generation, circuit-switched GSM networks capable of transmission rates of a mere 9.6 kbs.

The full-blown Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), by contrast, will depend on 2.5G (GPRS and EDGE) and 3G (UMTS) networks. The higher bandwidth available, and the use of packet-switched, Internet Protocol (IP) technology will enable a quantum leap in transmission rates - 115 kbs in the case of 2.5G and up to 2000 kbs in the case of 3G. This will open the way for richer messages which may include combinations of text, voice, animated graphics, photos, video clips, music and so on.

Basic operating principles

The industry standards governing MMS are defined and regulated by the industry bodies, WAP Forum and the 3G Partnership Project (3GPP). WAP, the Wireless Application Protocol, which MMS will initially use, is ‘bearer-agnostic’ as will be its successor MexE. This means that, within MMS, it will still be possible to use popular existing services such as SMS but without the frustrating limitations that have dogged them until now. In fact, backward and forward compatibility is one of the key attractions of MMS, overcoming the past problems of rapid technology and handset obsolescence. MMS operates like SMS in the sense that it is a personto- person service with an operator-controlled central message storage, management and relay centre which also provides the sender with confirmation that the message has been received. The MMS Centre (MMSC), however, needs to be a more flexible entity than the SMS Centre, in order to cope with the variety of different message types and the need to convert message formats according to the capabilities of the receiving terminals.

The main components of MMS architecture

The industry body, 3GPP, has defined four key functional elements of an MMSC product:

  • MMS Relay - the engine which transcodes and delivers messages to mobile subscribers
  • MMS Server - which provides the store in the store-and-forward MMS architecture
  • MMS User Agent - an application server giving users the ability to view, create, send, edit, delete and manage their multimedia messages
  • MMS User Databases - containing records of user profiles, subscription data etc

Scope of the technology

MMS enables person-to-person mobile messaging to incorporate a mix of different media types in addition to traditional voice and text:

  • Rich text - with the ability to select and manipulate fonts and perform a range of formatting options
  • Colour - from 16-colours to full-spectrum and including black & white and greyscale
  • Icons, logos and pictograms - selected from clip-art libraries or devised by the user
  • Sound clips - voice clips, melodies and special effects
  • Full music file downloads - such as MP3
  • Photographs - such as JPEG
  • Animated graphics - such as animated GIF
  • Video clips - such as MPEG4

These capabilities extend well beyond the realm of mobile-to-mobile. They can involve combinations of mobile or fixed phone, PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), PC or fax device. The built-in intelligent transcoding facility will ensure that the message format is optimised for the receiving device. MMS delivers all the utility of other messaging technologies with the addition of mobility and with the ability to express emotion and share experiences in a uniquely direct, instantaneous way. It is, above all, a compelling mass market, leisure-oriented service which will appeal, in the main to a youthful user group. The emphasis, at least in the early-adopter phase, will be on fun, entertainment, experiment, sharing, creativity and personal, one-to-one and one-to-many messaging within social groups.

Let’s look at just a few possible application scenarios:

  • Next generation voicemail - by which it is now possible to leave text, picture and even video mail. You will even be able to modify a message and send or forward it to several recipients.
  • Immediate Messaging - MMS features ‘push’ capability. That is to say, as long as the receiving terminal is on, the message is delivered instantly rather than having to be ‘collected’ from the server. With the prospect of ‘always-on’ terminals, this opens up the exciting possibilities of multimedia ‘chat’ in realtime.
  • Choosing how, when and where to view your messages - Not everything has to be instant. With MMS, users have an unprecedented range of choices about how their mail should be managed. They can predetermine what categories of messages are to be delivered instantly, stored for later collection, redirected to their PC or deleted. What’s more, they also have dynamic control with the ability to make ad-hoc decisions about whether to open, delete, file or transfer messages as they arrive.
  • Mobile fax - using any fax machine to print out an MMS message.
  • Sending multimedia postcards - A clip of holiday video could be captured through your handset’s integral video cam or uploaded via Bluetooth from a standard camcorder - then combined with voice or text messages and mailed instantly to family and friends.
  • One point of access for all messaging types - with a single mailbox view of Internet, 2G, 2.5G and 3G mobile network messages and with the ability to manage all of them via your Personal Information Manager (PIM).

The emphasis on fun applications is not to rule out other, more serious communication uses, including corporate roles which, we predict, will increase at an accelerating rate over the next five years. For example, the ability to transmit graphic, photographic and video data within a mobile field force could be invaluable. As handsets begin to incorporate integral video cams as standard, MMS could also find important applications among security teams, police forces and the insurance loss-assessment industry to name just a few.

Business opportunities

Revenue-enhancing, churn-reducing opportunities for operators to consider are:

  • Think about how best to charge for services - Profitable MMS is not about airtime. You will need a highly flexible billing system capable of reflecting the value to the user of media-rich services. Charging scales will need to encompass a combination of, for example, subscription fees, per-view and/or pertransaction charges, charges for data volume and, perhaps, differential charges to take account of downloaded content of variable value.
  • Explore the potential for using MMS as a channel for - third-party content. The transcoding and reformatting capabilities included in MMS will be an extremely attractive feature which content providers will be prepared to pay for.
  • Be sure to market the new user-oriented aspects of MMS - like highly reliable delivery with store-andforward and redirection features; like the rich range of PIM facilities, including pre-set and dynamic screening, storage and transfer; and like the ability to manage messages of all types within one view.
  • Take advantage of advertising opportunities - Operators must be careful not to alienate consumers early on by bombarding them with advertising messages. However, MMS does offer a fantastic opportunity for advertisers to send multimedia messages to the mobile handsets of consenting subscribers. Such messages can have the added benefit to the consumer of being location-based and time-sensitive, facilitating one-to-one and, even more important, ‘once-to-one’ direct marketing opportunities. There is also the possibility of subsidised messaging. In this case, each message would carry a company logo, slogan or melody in exchange for low-rate or free delivery.
  • Ensure your Customer Relationship Management - solutions are up to the job - MMS will generate unprecedented volumes of customer behaviour and profile data which can be analysed to yield invaluable marketing knowledge. With the right CRM system, this will enable you to develop highly targeted, personalised services to earn customer loyalty, increased per-customer revenues and reduced churn.
  • Position yourself to command the value chain - MMS gives the operator exciting opportunities to occupy a pivotal and high-visibility position in the complex new mobile value chain.

Implementation pitfalls and how to avoid them

  • Avoid technology cul-de-sacs Choose IT and network architectures which are specifically Internet-oriented and which are component-based. In particular, ensure that the messaging platform handles bearers separately from messaging types, from operations and from management functionality. This will enable new nodes and bearers to be added as networks evolve, messaging traffic grows, messaging costs reduce and interaction between different bearers, different message types and different devices increases.
  • Ensure your supplier has a proven history in system integration... The success of MMS will depend on the integration of MMS solutions with the Internet, Intranet and mobile worlds.
  • media conversion In an ideal MMS world all existing multimedia formats should be capable of being managed and forwarded in a transparent manner. As yet, however, device manufacturers have not succeeded in agreeing on a common set of supported formats and this diversity is going to intensify with the advent of, for example, Bluetooth and wideband. In the midterm, therefore, the ability of the MMS architecture to offer seamless media conversion to match the receiving device, is going to be a major success factor.
  • Choose a technology partner with global experience in wireless messaging across all networking technologies and protocols The evolution to 3G will not happen overnight. As operators work towards 3G step by step - deploying a mix of co-existent technologies and devices - interconnectivity and interoperability will become an increasingly pressing requirement.
  • Select a solution based wholly on open standards and technologies This will guarantee the ability to integrate third party products from the Internet seamlessly.
  • Protect your legacy investments A solution with multi-messaging application support capability (SMS, CBC, USSD) is a prerequisite.
  • Satisfy yourself that your chosen solution is fully interoperable between all the networks in all their configurations...
  • and that it can offer roaming, interconnect and, above all, pre-pay capabilities
  • Be sure that your MMS platform vendor has proven capability in IP-based billing solutions Billing flexibility - based on volume, transaction, event, duration and location, service and subscription is essential in the MMS market. It is also vital that the billing solution should support pre-pay.
  • Check that your supplier has... - Global messaging experience and knowledge - An open, scalable, telecom-grade solution - Strong solution-integration capabilities These will place you in the strongest possible position to use MMS to open up profitable new revenue streams.