Corporate wireless data services would not be a gold mine for telecommunications firms, SmarTone chief executive Douglas Li said yesterday. While his counterparts in Hutchison Telecom and CSL were bullish about revenue opportunities in the corporate segment, Mr Li expressed scepticism. 'Offering corporate data solutions can be very difficult. It is time-consuming, the problems are company-specific, a lot of effort is involved and the cost of systems integration is not insubstantial.' He said while the corporate segment had the most need for mobile data, he could not see another corporate application besides e-mail that would make business sense. Hong Kong's third-largest mobile network operator, SmarTone makes 3 per cent to 4 per cent of its revenues from data services, including SMS (short messaging service) and download services, as well as WAP (wireless application protocol) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) subscriptions. The company recently launched a mobile e-mail access service called Email On the Go, aimed chiefly at business users. The company will be introducing later in the year two new messaging services targeted at consumers to broaden its non-voice offerings and to pump up data revenues. The two new services called PictureMail and MovieMail are offered under its SmartMail family of messaging services. The carrier will later introduce two new categories of data services - browsing and games. According to Merrill Lynch's latest Wireless Matrix report, Hong Kong network operators are making less revenue from wireless data services than most of the world - between 3 per cent and 5 per cent - mainly due to the late play in SMS and weak GPRS and WAP uptake. Operators are desperately trying to increase revenue from mobile data as voice revenues continue to fall under downward pricing pressure. CSL was the first to introduce MMS (multimedia messaging service) in April. Hutchison Telecom launched its set of MMS services last week. The MMS services offered by all three operators are similar, only branded and marketed differently. Mr Li said: 'The challenge for the industry worldwide is to discover new data services that will appeal to consumers and the business segment. It is still a discovery process.' Merrill Lynch analyst Alistair Scott does not expect new MMS services to make a big impact in local data revenues just yet, though some operators are upbeat. Hutchison Telecom said last week it made 5 per cent in data revenues. It expects the figure to rise to 25 per cent in three years, when its investments in 2.5-generation and third-generation (3G) start to pay off. MMS services are seen as a key driver of that growth. Mr Li was more cautious. 'We don't expect a lot from it this year,' he said, adding that mass uptake of MMS services would probably emerge at the end of the year or early in 2003. 'MMS-enabled services have certain consumer appeal borne out by experiences in Japan, which have given hope to the industry worldwide that this will be the killer application.' He added there was no one-size-fits-all killer app. 'It's got to be a series of clearly targeted applications,' he said. SmarTone said it expected to introduce its 3G network no earlier than the third quarter of 2003. '3G is just a bigger pipe. It's quite clear that in 3G you are talking no more than what we already do in 2.5G. You will get similar kinds of services downloads - ring tones, clips - shoved down a bigger pipe,' Mr Li said. 'Of course, it's faster so you get an improvement in the experience and the content will be richer.' Mr Li said that the industry was still in the early stages of offering mobile data services and there were many lessons yet to be learned. 'The environment is more complex in data-centric services. The network, tariffs and services are all more complex. There is still a lot of work to be done so that these services become easier for the consumer to use,' he said. Mr Li said while the technology for the two messaging services had long been ready, MMS-enabled handsets and customer support had to be made available and interconnection issues solved before introducing them. New MMS-enabled handsets from Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, Siemens and Motorola are expected in the second half of the year. Interconnection and roaming agreements are vital if the services are to succeed. SmarTone has made inter-operator tests with China Mobile's and Guangdong Mobile's 2.5G networks. Pricing is another area operators have to get right. 'It's still a debate whether we should charge the sender and the receiver or just the sender. We are also undecided about whether we should go with pricing tiers according to the size of messages,' said Mr Li.