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What is MMS ?

Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) is a store and forward messaging service that allows mobile subscribers to exchange multimedia messages with other mobile subscribers. As such it can be seen as an evolution of SMS, with MMS supporting the transmission of additional media types:

  • text
  • picture
  • audio
  • video
  • combinations of the above

Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) is an important emerging service, which allows the sending of multiple media in a single message, and the ability to send a message to multiple recipients.
The originator can easily create a Multimedia Message, either using a built-in or accessory camera, or can use images and sounds stored previously in the phone (and possibly downloaded from a web site).

Even if the recipient phone is not switched on, the Multimedia Message will be stored and sent to the recipient as soon as they switch on their phone. In a non-roaming case, it is expected that the subscriber will allow a Multimedia Message to be downloaded automatically to their phone and then they would be notified and could see the Multimedia Message immediately.

A number of Multimedia Messages can be stored in the users handset and reviewed or forwarded at a later date.

Each Multimedia Message contains a number of pages (think of a PowerPoint slide show as an analogy). On each page, there can be one image and one set of text. An audio file can also be attached. The time that each “page” is displayed can be specified, so the user experience is somewhat like a slide show.

So how does MMS work?

Depending upon the operator, a typical example of how an MMS message can be sent and received between two compatible MMS phones is detailed below:

STEP 1:   Using an MMS compatible phone, take a photo.
STEP 2:   Use your phone to personalize the message by adding text, sound clip or your own voice.
STEP 3:   Send the MMS message

On an compatible phone, the MMS message will appear with a new message alert. The picture message will open on the screen, the text will appear below the image and the sound will begin to play automatically.

If the message is sent to a non-compatible MMS phone the user will receive a SMS message along the lines of:

"You have been sent a picture message!"

They may then be given a website address, and possibly and username and password on which they can view the message.

Again, this is a simple example and may differ from operator to operator.


GSM Technology is continually evolving. Having made great leaps forward in the past 10 years, it is facing an even greater evolution in the years ahead. Below are just a few questions raised on MMS. Click on a question to find out more.

What is Multimedia Messaging?

Multimedia messaging is a next generation message service. Multimedia messaging allows a variety of message elements to be sent to a user and these can contain text, animations, photographs, sounds and in future streaming audio and video. Users can compose their own messages, receive rich content messages from content providers and forward them onto their own contacts.

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When will MMS be introduced?

Some operators have already launched and many more will launch this summer (2002).

When will the consumers see this service?

Many operators are planning to launch before Christmas 2002.

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Why is MMS important?

For the subscriber MMS takes messaging out of the basic text users are used to and allows them to enjoy a much better messaging - more like they are used to via email or the Internet e.g. to send a greetings card or photograph of themselves.

For network operators MMS is important as it is the basis for a wide range of next generation services that pave the way for the improved 3G bandwidth to show its use, drive demand for data bandwidth and consequently increase operator revenues.

How would MMS look like to the end users?

Some of the first phones are introducing color so this is a substantial improvement over black & white text. Initial devices may maintain the conventional size display but allow color or gray scale images. The main thing users will see is that the experience is much more dynamic - a snapshot album of thumbnail images, a sequence of a cartoon e.g. Dilbert, captions and sounds combined with images.

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What are some examples of services on MMS?

Taking a snapshot via a camera phone and sending to a friend
Receiving cartoon strips
Composing your own animated picture messages and sending to friends
Sending audio files
Sending pictures & audio files with simultaneous playback
Music download & play (really with 3G)
Storing pictures to an on line album
Remote surveillance

What content types does MMS support?

MMS is based on common Internet technologies currently supported on a variety of content types which would include plain text, HTML, audio in a variety of formats including an efficient new standard AMR and soon MP3, pictures as GIF, JPEG, PNG and in the future video using MPEG4

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I don't have an MMS phone, can I receive / send MMS messages?

You would need to be on a network that supports MMS; steps are being taken to allow MMS's to be supported at various capabilities by non MMS phone users e.g. by converting as far as possible to WAP. There are restrictions which are things like if you only have an SMS capable phone you might have to access your MMS messages using an internet connection.

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Can MMS messages be sent to an email address?

Yes, it is possible to do this - although your operator will need to support this capability

How does the user's MMS experience compare to that of SMS?

The experience is far superior especially with devices with color displays, sound, text and picture sequences.

Are there any MMS phones available now?

The Ericsson T68i was the first phone available and we are starting to see more of these in user’s hands. Nokia have also started shipping their 7650 camera enabled MMS phone and another model is due soon. Many more models are expected.

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Does MMS need 3G?

Not at all, we're advising GPRS is the minimum although it works over circuit switched GSM it is costly to run. 3G will benefit capabilities such as streaming audio / video for example downloading full MP4 video clips may take too long over GPRS.

How big can an MMS message be?

There is not a network limit but initial devices are specifying minimum support for 30k - it's really a manufacturer limit concerning the amount of memory

How fast is an MMS message from phone to phone?

It could parallel an email message - might normally appear near instantaneous but could be delayed by load on servers and by who's sending from where to where or by network outages. It is not however designed to be real time.

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How does MMS compare to EMS?

EMS is delivered via SMS and this means it can be very costly and is using limited control channel capacity in a GSM network. EMS also supports picture messaging/ animation but MMS is much more capable of serving up multiple media together and also you wouldn't enjoy the experience of more complex media e.g. photographs, sound and video.

How does MMS compare to email?

It has many similarities to rich email content but delivered in a mobile friendly way. In fact MMS uses email technologies to underpin the technical capabilities. Some aspects of MMS will exceed standard email capabilities e.g. true control over sequences which conventional email doesn't handle.

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How is the MMS environment different from SMS?

MMS requires network operators to install MMS Server/ Relay equipment which integrates with existing infrastructure and connects to content providers, email gateways. SMS uses a control channel whereas MMS uses the data channel.

Is anyone setting standards for MMS?

The principle standards body is 3GPP for MMS though they use work by other standards bodies such as the WAP forum to assist in certain areas. The GSM association is active in collecting operator requirements to address to 3GPP to help advance these standards.

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What is the connection between MMS and WAP?

MMS capability uses many services of WAP to make it work - particularly the lower level WAP transport mechanisms which are optimized for operation over the GSM radio interface. MMS also uses WAP's push mechanism to transparently notify users of receipt of a new message.

Does MMS require network changes?

It requires additions of infrastructure components to handle the store & forward functions of MMS. MMSCs have to connect into other network components like HLRs, a network must also be WAP capable and realistically GPRS capable. And for proper service GPRS global roaming is required.

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How interoperable are MMS messages across manufacturers?

At a technical level the vendor community and operators have created an interoperability group to ensure maximum reliability in inter-working. Initially there may be differences between devices which will mean that there will be situations where an MMS composed on one device is not well rendered on another and this parallels a web page for a PC not looking good on a PDA.

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