MMS to overtake SMS?


By Stephen Whitford, Intrinsic Media, December 2006

As MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) starts to gain momentum in the market, one has to wonder whether it will overtake SMS as the dominant messaging tool for cellphone users.

As was with SMS when it was first launched, MMS uptake has been fairly slow, with the cellular networks only really beginning to push the service over the last year.

There are a number of benefits to using MMS as opposed to SMS. Instead of 160 characters, users can now type over 2000 characters as well as adding pictures and music to the message – and all this for only R0.90. With many cellphone users resorting to sending two or three SMS when they can’t fit everything into one SMS, the cost saving of MMS is obvious.

There are currently downsides to MMS though. Firstly, most phones have a friendly interface for SMS, which makes it easy to type and send SMS. MMS interfaces on cellphones are not always as user friendly making MMS harder to create and send.

In addition, the size of MMS can go up to 300 KB on some phones. The MMS is then sent or received via GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), which means the phone has to establish the connection and take the time to send and receive – a further downside. And while more and more phones are now MMS compatible and more users have taken the time to retrieve their MMS settings from their networks, the penetration of MMS is still not as widespread as SMS.

So what’s going to change things? Well according to Eddie Groenewald, CEO of Multimedia Solutions ( ), MMS advertising will. Multimedia Solutions is the first company in South Africa to overcome the challenges of bulk MMS. The company has run advertising campaigns in the automotive, financial, cellular, FMCG and eventing industries.

“It was with the advent of machine to person communication that SMS really took off,” he says. “When it was simply peer to peer, SMS awareness spread virally from user to user as people sent SMS to friends. With the advent of bulk SMS from PC to cellphone, the sheer volume of SMS being sent out gave SMS awareness the critical mass it needed.”

Groenewald believes the same will happen for MMS. However, for many consumers, this raises immediate alarm bells. SMS Spam and SMS premium rated short codes now dominate all forms of media advertising. The introduction of MMS advertising could therefore potentially see consumers’ cellphones ringing non-stop with advertising.

“Not so,” Groenewald argues. “Consumers will also be happy to know that their interests have been prioritised. Firstly, the advertiser pays for the MMS. This means that even the downloading of the MMS via GPRS is free.

“Secondly, Multimedia Solutions only delivers MMS between 8am and 5pm, unless the MMS is prompting an after hours event. Lastly, Multimedia Solutions anti-spam policy ensures no consumers receive unsolicited MMS with MMS only being sent to consumers who have specifically asked to receive information on the advertisers’ products,” he says.

And consumers who do not wish to receive advertising via MMS can unsubscribe at anytime and will not receive MMS adverts from Multimedia Solutions in the future.

The true test of how far MMS has come this year will be seen early next year when the cellular networks give an indication of how well MMS faired over the festive season and whether this had any impact on SMS growth.