MANILA, January 14, 2004 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - The mobile public may have not instantly embraced the Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) the way it was readily hooked on the Short Messaging Service (SMS) or text messaging, but hopes are high that it will definitely gain mass appeal and fuel the growth of MMS-ready and camera-enabled handsets in the market.

New generation mobile phones with color screens and/or built-in cameras can send not just text messages but also sound, images, video or a combination of all these multimedia elements. But so far, MMS takers are few and have not really maximized the potential of the technology.

In the Philippines, only 1.2 percent of the total wireless subscribers in 2003 are MMS users, according to research firm International Data Corp. (IDC). However, it is forecast to increase to 1.9 percent by the end of this year and to three percent in 2005.

As MMS-ready mobile devices gain growth, it is expected that the wide base of local SMS users start to go beyond text and explore the possibilities of multimedia capabilities of mobile phones.

The trend though is similar in many countries. A recent research from IDCís Quarterly Wireless Services Tracker showed that only 2.3 percent of total wireless subscribers in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) are MMS users, but the IDC is predicting that MMS uptake will grow by more than 50 percent in 2004. The projection is that MMS users among mobile phone users will steadily rise to 4.3 percent in 2004 and 6.7 percent in 2005.

This projected growth, IDC said, will be felt significantly in more affluent countries like Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea.

Among Asia-Pacific countries, Singapore has the highest percentage of MMS users among its wireless subscribers in 2003 at 7.5 percent. According to the IDC forecast, this is expected to grow to 11.7 percent in 2004 and 16.2 percent in 2005.

Australia follows closely with 5.9 percent of its wireless subscribers also using the MMS feature in 2003, and this is projected to increase to 10.2 percent this year and 15.5 in 2005.

MMS usage will also significantly leap in Hong Kong, from 4.8 percent in 2003 to 8.3 percent at the end of 2004; Taiwan, from 3.5 percent to 6.9 percent; and Korea, from three percent to 5.2 percent.

According to IDC, these countries will continue to lead in the adoption of wireless technology "due to early progress made in terms of operator connectivity and their higher penetration of camera phones."

"However, developing countries in the region are likely to observe a gradual rise in MMS users in the short-term forecast period due to the high prices of devices and MMS services at the moment, which mainstream subscribers consider too expensive," the IDC said.

Among the developing countries cited in the study, only Malaysia has zero users of MMS in 2003. But sans its late entry into the MMS ballgame, IDC predicts that in the next two years, adoption of the technology is likely to happen. In 2004, 0.3 percent of its wireless users will try MMS and this is expected to grow to 1.3 percent in 2005.

Since its introduction in 2002, MMS usage has so far been largely confined to user-created content such as digital images taken on camera phones, which represents the bulk of initial MMS uptake, the IDC said.

Davina Yeo, associate director of the Wireless Research Division of IDC Asia-Pacific, said the functionalities of MMS applications are available but are being marred by short-term obstacles such as interoperability and roaming capabilities Ė the same problems that SMS faced at the beginning.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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