Mobile phone operators gear up for MMS battle

Greece’s mobile phone companies have taken the battle for market share to the next stage of a mobile messaging application, simultaneously hoping that the new service will help rake in revenues. More than a month after archrival Vodafone (Panafon) launched its multimedia messaging service (MMS), market leader CosmOTE said yesterday that its subscribers would be able to access the new technology with immediate effect. MMS, seen as the successor to the wildly popular short message service (SMS) technology, only took off in Europe this year, with the jury still out on the response from subscribers. The new technology differs from SMS in that users can send and receive images and audio clips. Also, theoretically, the size of MMS messages is unlimited, unlike SMS which is constrained to about 160 characters. Analysts said the new service is not expected to have any substantial impact on mobile phone users or mobile operators’ bottom line in the first year because of its novelty and the limited number of handsets able to use the technology. There are only two handsets currently available in Greece that support MMS, Ericsson’s T68i model and Nokia’s 7650, both of which allow users to send pictures, photographs and sound clips. Theodore Ritsios, telecoms analyst at P&K Securities, said estimates of the number of owners of the two models in Greece are hard to come by but that it could be numbered in the low thousands. Regardless of this, he said it was easy to see why mobile operators are climbing onto the MMS bandwagon, which has thus far proved to be successful only in Japan. «SMS along with other data services accounted for close to 13 percent of CosmOTE’s revenues in the first half of the year,» he said. Vodafone reported a similar percentage in its last financial year ending March 31, 2002. The companies will be hoping that SMS users will make the leap to MMS. The focus on MMS comes as subscriber growth appears to be stagnating, forcing mobile operators to turn to other, more lucrative sources of revenue. The financial benefits from the new mobile technology in the initial phase won’t be what companies expect because of the present difficult economic climate, said Intersec analyst Constantinos Karitsos. «But in the long run, it can help boost revenues,» he said. MMS would be available to CosmOTE users free of charge to the end of the year, Evangelos Martigopoulos, managing director, said. He said the company decided not to charge for the service, as it prefers to educate subscribers on its uses first. Noting that content is key to the success of MMS, he said the company has linked up with news website, record chain Virgin Megastores and well-known cartoonist Arkas to offer its products and services.

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