- It's no surprise that everyone's getting clued up on MMS (multimedia messaging service) and, again, I've got no time for the skeptics here. MMS is undoubtedly a lot of fun, and as an added bonus, it has some serious, money-saving, productivity-enhancing uses for business customers. I’m therefore convinced that it's going to be huge for the operators and will soon drive up handset replacement levels. The only snag is that none of the MMS services launched in Europe to date allow users to send messages between networks – something that obviously has to change.
- Finnish startup Oplayo Oy showed an impressive streaming-media-over-GPRS service. Short video clips were downloaded over the air (across Vodafone’s network, since you ask) to the aforementioned 7650 handset. The viewing quality of the clip wasn’t fantastic, but it was certainly adequate for, say, watching replays of crucial scores by your favourite sports team. And significantly, this wasn’t a demo – it’s a commercial service that you can pay for over Bango!.net.
- Bango!.net itself is worth a mention, since it’s a quick and easy way for publishers to monetize their content and solves the problem of how to collect micro-payments in real time. In short, it works by allocating a WAP or, say, a Java games download site a Bango! number that users can easily enter into their mobile phones instead of the full URL or WAP address. I downloaded (for testing purposes only of course) the 7650 version of Mobile Repton (Bango! No. 737866). Level 1 of the game cost about $1, most of which will find its way back to the game’s publisher, Masabi.
- Vodafone Group plc was showing off its “m-pay cards” service that has just launched in the U.K. and Germany and builds on its “m-pay bill” service for micro payments that was launched last February. M-pay cards enable users to charge the cost of goods to their credit cards by entering a four-digit PIN into a merchant’s Web or WAP site. I bought two cinema tickets using a WAP phone and found the process much easier than the interactive voice response systems with which moviegoers normally have to struggle. All credit to Vodafone for getting this service out there; however I had been a bit concerned about the firm’s walled-garden approach. It was encouraging therefore to hear Jim Wadsworth, Vodafone’s m-pay group product manager, confirm that the m-pay system will soon interoperate with a similar system under development by T-Mobile International AG. And, according to unconfirmed reports, Orange SA and Telefónica Móviles SA are also preparing to join the scheme.
- Over on the Alcatel SA stand I brought a Coca Cola from a GPRS-enabled vending machine. This was just a demo (albeit over live networks), but the system was certainly simple enough to use. The guys from Alcatel and HelloTech Ltd., which designed the system, gave me a long and complex explanation of how exactly it worked (apparently it involved sending data to Israel and Belgium and back again), but, to tell the truth, by this point I wasn’t really bothered. All I had to do was dial the phone number displayed on the machine and out popped a cold drink! Seriously though, although this GPRS-enabled vending machine isn’t a major benefit for the consumer (who could just as easily put a coin in a machine as dial a phone number), it does have advantages for the vending machine owner, who can use the technology to operate more efficiently; and it has potential for the mobile operator that wants, for example, to bundle free drinks with a subscription plan.