Hong Kong took one small step towards the world of third-generation (3G) mobile telephony this week, as CSL launched the world's first commercial multimedia messaging service (MMS). Note the word commercial. Norway's Telenor got in a few weeks ahead, but its service only begins charging next month. Still, it never hurts to be first, and the announcement makes 1010 and One2Free the first mobile-phone brands in Asia to offer the system. But apart from the prestige of beating everyone else to it, what else does CSL gain? Very little. MMS, as the name implies, is a system for sending text, sound and even video from one phone to another. In theory, a user should be able to film a short video and copy it to a phone through Bluetooth, add a couple of subtitles or a voice-over, and send it. You can even send and receive MMS messages from your desktop or (eventually) digital TV. As a bonus for content providers, MMS features digital rights management, so users who subscribe to content services will not be able automatically to forward the latest cartoon or pop tunes to people. As MMS is an open standard using wireless application protocol (WAP), it should not even be restricted by the recipient's choice of phone network. Finally, MMS uses a store and forward system, meaning a message is received by a network's service centre and forwarded directly to the recipient's phone - unlike e-mail, which waits on a server to be collected, people will get the message wherever they are. Present messaging systems - short-messaging service (SMS) and extended messaging service (EMS) - have numerous inherent problems. SMS only really arrived in Hong Kong last year but in many countries it has already overtaken voice in the affection of its users. According to the GSM Association, mobile-phone users sent more than a billion text messages per day last year. EMS, an extension of the same standard, only recently arrived in Hong Kong, though it has been established in message-friendly countries such as the Philippines and Singapore for some time. EMS combines multiple SMS messages to deliver bulkier content such as ring-tones, icons and animations. Unfortunately, most handsets on the market still do not support EMS. MMS is a cool technology but, as with all good things, there is a spoonful of salt in the custard. First, there is the price. CSL is charging HK$15 just to download an animation of Hong Kong superstar McMug. A monthly fee of HK$49 gets one megabyte's worth of data, HK$149 gets 2MB. Strange economics, but there you go. The Norwegian firm charges a flat fee of 10 kroner (about HK$8.98) per message. Then you must add on the fees for WAP or GPRS (general packet radio services) transport. MMS may be a 3G technology, but most of the world is still stuck with 2.5G, and will be for at least another year. So forget about those full-motion video greetings cards: CSL does not even want to talk about it. For the most enthusiastic early adopter, this should not be a major problem. After all, most of us are accustomed to paying extra for the latest gadgets and, never having tried high-speed mobility, we can all live without it for a while longer. But then there is the handset issue. There are still no handsets on the market that support video and the only MMS phone so far is the Sony Ericsson T68i, which offers text, audio and animation. Though the quality and size of MMS multimedia is higher than that of EMS, many people are unlikely to see the difference as being large enough to invest in the new service. So if you are among those keen early birds, you have a problem. Not only must you buy a new phone, but if you want to send messages the recipients must be subscribers. If they are not already subscribers, they will have to take their new phones to CSL, or move to Norway.