Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS)

The History of Multimedia Messaging (MMS)

Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) use has continued to increase since it was first introduced. The ability to send a wide range of digital content has proved to be popular among mobile phone users. From photos to videos and ringtones, MMS allows mobile phone subscribers to send and receive almost any type of digital content. No longer limited to short text messages offered by SMS, MMS has expanded the way mobile phone users communicate and share.


Short Message Service (SMS) limits how information is shared between mobile phone users. To address some of these limitations, MMS builds on the ability to share text messages by offering the same convenience of instant messaging with additional functionality and features. MMS messages was developed to allow mobile phone users to share rich text, colour and animations. They also facilitated the exchange of photographs, videos and audio embedded in messages. This has made mobile phone messaging more engaging and dynamic for consumers.

Development of MMS

MMS builds on the technology first introduced with the launch of SMS messaging. SMS was developed by Friedhelm Hillebrand, Bernard Ghillebaert and Oculy Silaban in 1984. The work was part of European efforts to standardise technologies and protocols between mobile phone providers, which at the time varied greatly between countries. Through this cooperation, the first set of GSM specifications were released in 1990.

The first SMS message was sent in December 1992 over Vodafone UK's new GSM network. SMS messaging was launched commercially by mobile phone providers in 1995. A limitation of SMS messages is that texts are limited in length by up to 160 characters. Messages are also restricted to plain text characters. To enhance mobile phone messaging services and messaging experience for consumers, developers began to consider ways to incorporate digital content such as graphics and pictures.

The forerunner to MMS messages was originally developed in Japan. J-Phone first introduced a picture messaging service in 2001, marketed as Sha-Mail. Early MMS were beset by technical issues and inconsistence service. A common problem with the first MMS deployments including undelivered MMS messages despite customers being billed for sending the message. Other issues included MMS messages being delivered in wrong formats and missing content. One of the main sources of these issues was the lack of MMS capable mobile devices during the early development of the concept.

Launch of MMS Messaging

The first commercial MMS service was introduced in 2002 with the launch of the first GSM network at 800 MHz. One of the first MMS capable mobile phones was the Sony Ericsson T68i, which was also launched in 2002. Gradually, mobile phone operators around the world began to adapt the feature. The first major markets for MMS or picture messaging were Europe and Asia, with North American operators adopting MMS capable handsets later between 2004 and 2005.

The uptake of MMS messaging was originally tepid. In 2004, the MMS World Congress in Vienna brought together mobile phone providers in Europe to discuss the emerging technology. Most providers saw MMS as a money-losing venture with questionable utility. By comparison, China was emerging as an early and successful market for MMS. At the GSM Association Mobile Asia Congress in 2009, China Mobile noted that MMS service had equalled SMS in China.

MMS Messaging Today

According to Portio Research in February 2012, 207 billion MMS messages were sent by mobile subscribers around the world in 2011. By comparison, 7.8 trillion SMS messages were sent worldwide in 2011. The number of MMS messages is expected to rise, reaching an estimated 276.8 billion messages in 2016. Portio Research also estimated that the worldwide messaging market was worth US$202 billion in 2011. Of this, MMS accounted for 15.3 per cent of mobile messaging revenues. SMS messages the most popular service with the highest revenue share. However, by 2016 the share of revenues from SMS is expected to decline to under 50 per cent with the continued growth of MMS, instant messaging and mobile email use.