Media fail to get the picture as T-Mobile suffers communication breakdown

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The Independent Online

"It was working an hour before," said the red-faced spokesman. And it worked just fine shortly after the demonstration ended, he insisted.

But during the actual demonstration, aimed at impressing the amassed media, T-Mobile's mobile phone picture messaging service was yesterday knocked off air by a most embarrassing "technical hitch".

The company, formerly known in the UK as One2One, had been hoping for a rare moment of glory as it became the first of the UK's four operators to launch such a service.

But the unspecified glitch prevented the German group from either sending or receiving any picture messages during an hour-long demonstration.

Picture messaging services enable mobile phone users to take photographs and send those pictures either to other mobile phones or to e-mail addresses. The success of those services are vital to the UK's mobile phone operators who are relying on them to get customers to spend more, thereby increasing their so-called ARPU, or average revenue per user, figures.

To use the new service, T-Mobile customers will need to upgrade their existing handset to one that includes a tiny camera, as well as sign up to the company's picture messaging tariff.

T-Mobile, which launched the new service last Saturday, is charging customers an extra £20 a month for picture messaging on top of their existing bill. The tariff will enable users to send and receive around 10Mb worth of photos, equivalent to around 350 pictures, after which they will be charged for each message sent or received.

Vodafone, Orange and mmO2 are all expected to follow suit with similar launches later in the year when a wider choice of mobile phones are expected to be available.

T-Mobile, which is owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom, launched the service with the Sony Ericsson T68i handset, which has a detachable camera attachment and sells at the subsidised price of around £200.

It is hoping to have signed up "tens of thousands" of customers to the tariff by the end of this year in a move it hopes will help it leapfrog its rival mmO2 to become the UK's third-largest operator.

It will all need to work rather better than yesterday for that to happen.