Optus’ video punt

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Optus is using the Melbourne Cup to trial mobile video messaging services over its GPRS network, and hopes to launch a commercial service in the first quarter next year.

The trial, which is being conducted in conjunction with the Racing Victoria, involves about 100 users, some of whom will receive an MMS (multimedia messaging service) message that will allow them to either stream or download 30 or 40 seconds of video of the final stages of the race to a Nokia 7650 handset.

The video will be available shortly after the race concludes, using OPlayer software and systems from Melbourne-based developers LiveEvents Wireless. Other users in the trial will receive standard SMS messages.

Optus mobile chief Allen Lew said the video applications were still only in a trial phase, but expected the video service to be available as a commercial service by March 2003.

By offering video over its 2.5G GPRS network, Optus is hoping to steal a march on rival mobile network Hutchison, which will go live with an Orange 3G network in Q1 2003. Video streaming is high on Orange's agenda, with the company planning to have it in the product line-up at launch.

In the interim, Optus will embark on what Lew described as the “second phase” of its MMS development, with the company due to announce an MMS news product in two weeks.

Developed conjunction with wire service AAP, news items will include picture as well as text content.

Other new services will include a greeting card service with Hallmark, which will carry music along with the card visual, and a Surfcam service, which will provide pictures of conditions at popular surfing spots. The Surfcam service may also be morphed to provide snow and traffic reports.

Like user-generated MMS, content services will cost 75 cents per message. Lew said such services, along with the arrival of colour screen MMS mobiles, are important in getting consumers to consider upgrading their handsets.

Lew said he is satisfied with MMS take-up, but declined to detail numbers. “I think the build-up [of MMS] has been satisfactory if you compare it to SMS and it certainly has far exceeded uptake of GPRS,” he said.

MMS was being primarily used currently by people sending pictures to each other via camera phones, Lew said.

A key characteristic of the “third phase” to be ushered in with video would be the arrival of a greater variety of MMS handsets from more manufacturers, Lew said. “I would expect that by the middle of next year, more than half the phones entering this market will be MMS,” he said.

Lew would not give details of which handset maker will be supplying the video phone, but said it will be a well known, “traditional” handset supplier.

Optus will expand its still camera phone line-up within two weeks with the addition of Panasonic's i-Mode-like GD88 handset to the range, which will be joined by the Nokia 6610 and 7210 phones, both of which will be able to receive and forward, but not create, MMS messages with photos.

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