AT&T Wireless and Sprint PCS on Thursday introduced new services that let cell phone users send and receive messages containing a mix of different media.
Multimedia Message Service, or MMS, is a technology that allows e-mails to carry attachments such as documents, sound recordings or movie clips. The technology is a step beyond the short, text-only messages most of the United States' 146 million cell phone subscribers now trade.
AT&T Wireless' new service lets customers send electronic greeting cards for $1.99 apiece from American Greeting Card. One card features Winnie the Pooh dancing across the cell phone screen with "You make me happy" written underneath his feet--all while the cell phone chimes a tune.
Meanwhile, Sprint PCS announced that for $3.95, PCS Vision subscribers can get news or sports highlights automatically sent to their phones for 30 days. Subscribers receive a slide show of graphics on their cell phones, along with a newscaster's voice reading a report. The first downloads included an update on Iraq.
Both carriers say this is the start of a series of new services to come.
"We think we've clearly staked out a leadership position in the messaging category," said Jeremy Pemble, an AT&T Wireless spokesman.
"Sprint is the first in the wireless industry to offer customers news they can watch on-demand on their PCS phone," said Chip Novick, vice president of consumer marketing for the PCS division of Sprint.
MMS could hit resistance among U.S. customers--as have other cell phone services that don't involve making a phone call. Wireless subscribers like Karl Doblinger would prefer to consistently make a cell phone call rather than watch Winnie the Pooh slide across their screens.
"Until the main function of a cell phone--to make and receive calls--can be handled properly, I have no interest in any additional services, none," he wrote in an e-mail.
But this aversion, analysts say, is being worn down already with the growing popularity of camera phones sold by carriers including T-Mobile, which lets people send picture messages. Camera phones will serve as MMS training wheels, IDC analyst Keith Waryas said.
"These services have a decent chance," he said.
IDC believes MMS will generate about $7.4 billion in revenue for U.S. carriers in 2007, when about 27 percent of cell phone owners will be using the services.
MMS doesn't work on every phone. There are only about 5.7 million MMS-compatible phones on the market right now, IDC says. By 2007, there will be about 44.3 million phones capable of trading these messages, or roughly a quarter of the total cell phone subscribers.
The AT&T Wireless service works on only four of its approximately two-dozen cell phones. Sprint PCS offers more compatible phones--about nine, according to its Web site.
Aside from offering greeting cards, AT&T Wireless is selling MMS alerts about news or sports sent to phones, which cost about 35 cents to 50 cents each. Customers will get billed for sending an MMS to an incompatible cell phone, Pemble said.