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Understanding the Engine Behind MMS - Five elements necessary for efficient rollouts
Understanding the Engine Behind MMS - Five elements necessary for efficient rollouts

Here's how the imminent emergence of MMS will enable operators to make the right platform choice.

The potential for Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) is significant - with industry experts estimating a multibillion dollar market. For example:

  • According to a recent report from industry analyst firm IDC, approximately 80 million MMS subscribers and $7.4 billion in new subscriber revenue is anticipated by 2007.
  • Likewise, industry observers from 3G World Forums say MMS will be a $4.8 billion business by 2006.
There is no doubt that end users stand to benefit greatly from the experience that the wide range of MMS applications offer through a combination of text, sounds and music, images, and video, all delivered as an integrated message for display on an MMS-compliant mobile handset.

In addition to photo messaging, MMS value-added services can include video messaging, screensavers/logos, location-based services, greeting cards, premium information content, music distribution, and gaming/entertainment. While MMS is in its early stages, it has the potential to take off even faster than Short Message Service (SMS) because many of the primary interoperability elements that operators are concerned about between handsets and networks are already in place or will be soon.

U.S. and other North American operators are now in a position to follow the examples of European and Asian operators already rolling out commercial deployments of MMS with the hope of growing revenue with non-voice services for the mass market. Operators with investments in packet-based network infrastructure for 2.5G and 3G data networks are optimistic that MMS will be worth both the wait and financial weight.

The next step to fully realizing MMS use by the mass market is to complete the interoperability between different MMS operator deployments. The operator's initial priority is to deploy MMS and to commercialize within their own serving areas. Now the opportunity to focus on interoperability is no longer a technical hurdle due to standards, but rather establishing business arrangements among operators.

Operators can leverage their SMS interoperability experience and duplicate the same business arrangements, per their business cases, to allow subscribers to fully realize the power of MMS service nationwide and between technology networks.

To truly appreciate the substantial innovations and end-user experience that MMS solutions will soon deliver, it's important to understand the type of network infrastructure or "engine" that must be in place behind the scenes. Without the right type of messaging delivery infrastructure, operators run the risk of having systems that are incompatible, unreliable, and incapable of growing as the demand for MMS takes off.

By talking with network operators and deploying multiple messaging solutions, Motorola has identified the following MMS network elements that must be met to ensure timely, cost-efficient, and trusted rollouts of MMS:

  1. Implementing an MMS solution that enables devices, applications, and messaging platforms to work seamlessly together, regardless of manufacturer: By deploying an integrated, end-to-end service, operators will benefit from the ability to quickly add subscribers regardless of the handset type or manufacturer.

    For example, some early MMS handsets have deviated from MMS standards, forcing messaging platforms to work around handset limitations. Operators will also benefit from the ability to add new, customized programs that meet the needs of application developers. End users will benefit from the ability to send and receive messages over virtually any MMS network worldwide.

    This is true given that the business arrangements between operators will only expand the MMS serving areas that cross different operator MMS networks regardless of the MMS-capable handset type or service provider.

    Interoperability between the MMS networks and platforms is now an opportunity not to be missed; it is no longer confined by technology or lack of standards.

  2. Installing a stable platform that delivers fast, reliable support for MMS with the ability to scale to meet future needs: Current industry MMS offerings are very low-capacity systems and most will require major equipment upgrades with additional interfaces and greater network management, as well as the need for large server "farms." To deliver the most reliable platforms to meet the capacity, availability, and scalability needs that full-featured MMS solutions require, operators should take advantage of powerful, flexible, and space-efficient technologies available today. Carrier-grade platforms offer the required level of performance and stability to take the chance out of reliability and overall customer satisfaction.

    Additionally, in today's environment, making sure that platforms are standards-based and meet the requirements of the OMA, 3GPP, and 3GPP2, whether operating on GPRS, WCDMA, CDMA 1x, or other networks, is a necessity.

  3. Supporting message conversion to ensure accurate, safe delivery of multimedia messages: While there is no question about the tremendous benefits and end-user experience MMS holds, technologies must be in place to reliably read incoming and outgoing messages, relay them to the appropriate network element, and quickly convert them into readable form. Platforms that support message transcoding enable the conversion of message formats into content tailored to the capabilities of the wireless device. For example, some handsets support GIF and BMP image formats while others support JPEG. The messaging platform must know the specific capabilities of each handset to ensure interoperability.

    Both the Short Message Service Center (SMSC) and Multi-Media Message Service Center (MMSC) receive, store, and deliver messages. SMS today provides a reliable level of service. MMS must provide a similar level of service to be successful in the marketplace. Both services must guarantee message delivery. Reliability begins with the messaging platform and is highly dependent on the wireless network.

  4. Installing an MMS platform that acts as a control point for applications (Value Added Service) that use MMS as a transport: An MMS platform should act as a control point, providing billing capabilities for MMS applications, as well as managing the database of users who subscribe to these services.

  5. Protecting existing network infrastructure investments in SMS and/or other messaging platforms: Operators with investments in (SMS) and Enhanced Messaging Service (EMS) want architecture that will enable the co-location of multiple services on the same network. By enabling the ability to migrate to the next evolution in high-bandwidth messaging in MMS through software upgrades, operators can protect existing investments, lower capital and operational expenditures (CapEx and OpEx), and quickly discover a path for raising Average Profit Per User (APPU) through increased air time usage.
By implementing the right end-to-end platform for delivering MMS and other messaging services, operators will give end users exciting functionality, exceptional service, and superior multimedia content-rich communications. Operators will also benefit from natural competitive advantages that will:
  • Attract and attain high-usage customers with the latest messaging technologies
  • Tap into enhanced revenue streams generated by the popularity of messaging
  • Reduce cost of ownership by maximizing existing investments
  • Expand and enhance capabilities with easy scalability
Overall, carriers are primarily focused on starting with a limited set of MMS service such as picture messaging/peer-to-peer with their entry-level MMSC platforms. Given the projected trend for greater MMS messaging growth and the short messaging growth experience, the demands to manage greater capacity, increased MMS throughput, and message-delivery reliability become the key metrics for a platform solution.

Many carriers are beginning to experience problems due to the lack of these key metrics in their regional and nationwide MMS offerings. A carrier-grade, high-availability, high-reliability, and low-latency platform significantly decreases the problems associated with clustered/server "farm" MMSC implementations. Only by ensuring that the MMS services offer as easy and reliable a customer experience as SMS, can it offer a compelling proposition and ensure that revenues from messaging continue to rise.

About Uma T. Murty
Uma T. Murty is a director of value-added solutions in the global marketing organization of Motorola's Global Telecom Solutions Sector.

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