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Picture-perfect in messaging

Calcutta, July 20: Multimedia messaging is set to change from being a niche service to a medium of mass communication. Cellular operators are working on integrating the inter-carrier messaging solution that will allow users to send MMS across different networks — a critical factor if it has to become ubiquitous.

At present, users can send messages only to those within their own network. This means an AirTel subscriber in Calcutta cannot send an MMS to a Hutch user. The importance of inter-carrier link-ups was first realised with the success of short message service or SMS. It is estimated that 165 billion text messages are exchanged around the world annually; around 2.5 lakh swapped in Calcutta alone.

MMS, touted as next-generation messaging, could eclipse SMS. The capability to punch in video, pictures, audio and text on to a single message adds the ‘fun factor’ which SMS misses out on. Global surveys suggest that MMS can generate over $ 8 billion by 2004, and Asia will account for at least 20 per cent of it.

Users, however, have not been quick to lap up MMS. The high costs of MMS-enabled handsets and problems between operators have not made things easier.

“MMS is a huge revenue opportunity. We will lose out if users find it difficult to communicate beyond their own circle,” a source with a national operator said. Inter-carrier messaging will enhance revenues. Operators do not charge for MMS now, mainly because most are not ready with billing systems that this requires.

Like SMS, MMS relies on a service centre (MMSC), the operator-based hub that stores and forwards MMS messages. However, the technical delivery is not the same; as the sender’s home service centre or SMSC always delivers the text message. In the MMS model, it is the sender’s home MMSC that delivers the message to the recipient’s home MMSC using a data channel, usually connected with a GPRS Roaming Exchange (GRX) network, instead of the operator’s SS7 network.

Global firms selling MMS handsets in India are following Open Mobile Alliance’s MMS specifications, which define the world’s message formats like JPEG, message size and quality, content adaptation and transcoding rules, and inter-MMSC interfaces. This is likely to increase chances that MMS will be sent and received easily across operators in standards that have been defined for the rest of the world.

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