Vodafone to launch next-generation messaging

Multimedia message service (MMS) will be launched at the start of July allowing an image to be sent by phone to an email address.

Vodafone will launch a next-generation text messaging service, PXT, at a cost of 50 cents a message at the start of July.

PXT is Vodafone's brand name for MMS (multimedia message service), which allows users to send not only brief text messages but also images to an email address. This facility will be upgraded later in the year to include the ability to send images to other phones.

Vodafone's director of consumer products, Chris Taylor, says this kind of application is more important to the end user than what platform it runs on.

"The customer doesn't care about whether they're using GSM or GPRS or whatever, but they do care about what they can do with it." Taylor says Vodafone sees PXT as the "killer app" for mobile data.

"Imagine you're at the next All Blacks game and want to send a photo of a winning try to someone in London. Or you're an architect and you want to get a picture of some tricky problem back to the office. This is a fast, cheap, effective way of doing that."

The service is available now; however, users need to have a PXT-capable phone. Ericsson will be first off the blocks with its T68i, available from July 1. Nokia's camera phone, the 7650, will be available later this year.

Nokia's head of mobile phones for the region, Robert Andersson, says Nokia is responding to user demand for more services with its offering.

"There is a huge market of people wanting to share photographs. There is a huge market for SMS messages. Bringing the two together makes perfect sense to us." Andersson says the current trying environment for telecommunications network operators makes it the perfect time to come up with a new way to add value.

"There is this huge convergence of industry demand, technology and pressure from the operators and from the end user pushing toward these kinds of services."

Andersson says it is important that operators realise the cost of MMS must be kept low to keep user take-up high. Nokia says MMS calls should follow the same format as existing SMS calls--that is, that only the sender pays--and should be no more than three or four times the cost of an SMS. In New Zealand, Vodafone charges 18 cents for an SMS.

Vodafone's next step will be to enable users to send photos from phone to phone as well as to email. Eventually other file types will be supported, such as sound files.

Users without a PXT-capable phone or an email address will still be able to receive photos via the web. They will receive text messages complete with a URL that will direct them to a site containing their photo. Photos are in JPEG format and resolution is dependent on the camera used to take the picture.