iPhone MMS update could crash network, some fear

Apple releases its iPhone MMS service today. Could the network come grinding to a halt?

Update, 7:28 p.m., EST: An informal guide to the MMS outages.

Update, 1:40 p.m., EST: Many readers have successfully accessed the MMS carrier update for the iPhone. Keep us posted in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Today Apple is set to release MMS service for the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3G S – a long-awaited update that would finally bring photo messaging technology to the best-selling smart phones. But many bloggers and analysts worried that the MMS functionality might grind the AT&T network to a slow, painful halt. It's certainly not out of the question. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, the iPhone has already put maximum stress on the 3G network.

The iPhone is a data guzzler, Jenna Wortham notes:

Owners use them like minicomputers, which they are, and use them a lot. Not only do iPhone owners download applications, stream music and videos and browse the Web at higher rates than the average smartphone user, but the average iPhone owner can also use 10 times the network capacity used by the average smartphone user.... The result is dropped calls, spotty service, delayed text and voice messages and glacial download speeds as AT&T’s cellular network strains to meet the demand.

Add in a cascade of high-res photos – the iPhone 3G S has a 3.2 megapixel camera, capable of producing some exceptionally lustrous shots – and a small army of eager photographers. Stir and mix as necessary. Yeah, AT&T could have some serious trouble on its hands. On Wednesday, MacRumors.com reported, via the industry site DSLReports.com, that Apple was "extremely nervous" about the MMS launch.

"Early testing of the service has apparently already placed a strain on the company's MMS servers, resulting in a test outage yesterday and a last-minute rush to beef up capacity beyond the measures already taken," wrote blogger Eric Slivka.

But Stephen Lawson of the IDG news service says that there's one simple reason why the AT&T network might survive the coming MMS storm:

[MMS] has been out for years on other handsets and hasn't exactly taken the mobile world by storm. In 2008, MMS made up just 2.5 percent of all messages sent from phones worldwide, meaning about 97.5 percent were SMS text messages, according to ABI Research. ABI expects the MMS share to grow to just 4.5 percent by 2014.

In other words, it would take a serious reversal in consumer trends to crash the network with MMS messaging. Still, as the Times article notes, iPhone users – more so than users of regular old smartphones – are multimedia fiends. To see how the whole thing shakes out, follow us on Twitter. We’re @csmhorizonsblog.


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