Technical interoperability issues are a key hurdle to North American-wide inter-carrier picture messaging, and a recent Bell Mobility/Sprint PCS collaboration agreement is likely the exception that proves the rule for future deals. On February 24, the two cellcos announced an interoperability deal, the first on the continent, but carriers looking to follow suit will first need to sort out important platform issues.Almis Ledas, VP of corporate development at Bell Mobility, says discussions to expand the service across the remaining Canadian carriers and then to other American operators are in very early stages. "They are in an evolution of both inter-carrier short messaging service, or the SMS gateway, thinking how that can apply to extend beyond the current text messaging service, and general recognition that connectivity across carriers is going to be helpful here, but there’s not much concrete being done right now beyond that," he tells Report on Wireless. The difficulty in expanding the service to other carriers is a result of the different ways in which each carrier has implemented picture messaging. Ledas notes that while Bell and Sprint have chosen to use a Lightsurf platform, other operators have opted to build their own service making it that much more difficult to integrate. He says, however, that this will all work itself out down the road. "It’s pretty much how you’re networking the devices, which is a combination of a lot of questions that resemble more computing questions than phone questions … You make all these decisions and then you decide who else has done it exactly this way - who can I just connect my pipes with - and that dictates who you can share with in phase one," Ledas says. "These things will be ironed out and it may be that for a while there’s different (environments) - (like) the Mac world and the IBM world - that will exist. But even in that case, eventually they’re driven to start sharing files and capabilities across the two platforms, if two such platforms exist. We’re still in relatively early days and we may all migrate into one." The mass adoption of picture messaging is still some time away in Canada and in North America. Twenty-five percent of handsets now sold in the U.S. have built-in cameras, but that is well below the 80% and 90% levels Japan and Korea are experiencing. But IDC notes that camera phones will outsell digital cameras this year. Ledas is confident that the service has mass appeal and will one day find mass acceptance: the challenge is to figure out how to implement the service so that it is easy for customers to use and priced in a manner that consumers understand, he says. "How many steps does it take to take a picture? How easy is it to share? How user friendly is the customer interface? I think we’re each learning from our own implementations about that." As talks progress to expand the service domestically and to carriers in the U.S., they are likely to end up in the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association’s (CWTA) SMS committee, which will then decide to proceed with a request for proposal seeking an organization that can build a platform for all carriers to use. That is how the procedure worked when the Canadian carriers decided to implement inter-carrier text messaging, announced in November 2001 (RoW, Nov. 13/01). The CWTA recently told RoW that formal discussions among affected parties on expanding the service are not taking place (RoW Update, March 1/04). It’s unclear at this point which companies other than Lightsurf have the capability to implement this type of service on a large scale, but given the computing nature of the application, Ledas says to not rule out the big systems integrators like HP and IBM as potential platform providers.