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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2002

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BPL Mobile launches MMS in Mumbai

R. Y. Narayanan

COIMBATORE, Oct. 15

ARE you excited about flashing the picture of your new born child to your dear ones abroad or that of your newly built home?

What normally took days earlier to send through post or which needs a PC to send through e-mail has now become a hassle-free job. But for that to be possible, you should be a resident of Mumbai city and should be hooked to BPL Mobile's cellular network.

For the first time in the country, BPL Mobile Cellular Ltd, has launched Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) in Mumbai city, making India only the fourth nation in the Asia-Pacific region to boast of this facility.

Though the MMS-compatible handsets cost a tidy sum now, BPL Mobile hopes that once the volumes pick up, the mobile handsets price would become more affordable.

According to Mr Deepak Varma, President and Chief Operating Officer (COO), BPL Mobile, Mumbai, while the company has launched this service in Mumbai, it definitely `plans to extend' both General Packet Radio Switching (GPRS) that enables faster downloading of data and MMS to its other circles in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa and Pondicherry.

But the time frame for this expansion would depend on the market potential in these circles. He said by this year-end, the company planned to extend GPRS and MMS across key towns in the Maharashtra circle.

The benefit of MMS was that mobile phone users could use the handsets equipped with built-in cameras and sound recording equipment, to create their own multimedia messages or retrieve ready-made graphics and sounds from video/audio banks either on line or in their handsets. At present there were two MMS compatible handsets available in the Indian markets — Nokia 7650 and Sony Ericsson T68i. But they come at a stiff price — at about Rs 30,000 in the market.

Mr Varma believed that even before BPL Mobile launched its MMS in Mumbai, there were at least 4,000-5,000 MMS phones in the Mumbai market.

He said the company was also examining the possibility of working out an instalment package for purchase of handsets. He did not anticipate the high handset price to act as a deterrent to the acceptance of the MMS package. As had been the experience earlier, once volumes were generated for the service, the handset prices would move southwards.

To a specific query as to selecting Mumbai city for launching MMS, he said BPL Mobile was the only operator in the country having a robust GPRS network in Mumbai to deliver `a rich and true MMS experience' to its subscribers.

BPL Mobile was the first mobile phone service provider in the country and India would be the fourth nation in Asia-Pacific region after Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines, to have the MMS network.

But cost would be a crucial issue. The cost difference between Short Messaging Service (SMS which provides written messages on the screen of the handsets) and MMS is significant. In such a scenario, will MMS find wider acceptance?

Mr Deepak Varma said MMS was being touted as the next success after SMS as not only person to person messaging increased but a lot of content services and application services such as multimedia news, stock ticklers etc were possible using this technology. He said in Mumbai city, an SMS costs Re 1 per outgoing message while incoming was free. But an MMS, in a bundled form, costs Rs 2 per outgoing message, while incoming remained free. (As an introductory offer, for Rs 199 per month, subscribers could send 100 outgoing MMS).

Beyond this, each outgoing MMS would cost Rs 3 per message. This was very cheap compared to international pricing trends that peg the cost of an MMS at 5-8 times of an SMS.

Did he visualise MMS overtaking SMS? The BPL Mobile COO in the country's commercial capital said that while it was difficult to predict when exactly it could happen, international studies suggest that by 2010 every five out of 6 messages would be an MMS.

``Our advertising communication has also positioned MMS as a service that will make SMS history,'' he said.

He said MMS has been made available to BPL Mobile subscribers in Mumbai city from October 7. BPL has a subscriber base of over 5.5 lakh in the city.

It has targeted a 10 per cent penetration of its existing subscriber base in the next 8-10 months. Moreover BPL Mobile has more than 4,500 subscribers in Mumbai using GPRS who would be a target audience for MMS.

Mr F.B. Cardoso, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), BPL Mobile, said the company has roped in Tele DNA as a technology partner for offering MMS service.

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