updated 10/29/2004 6:43:00 PM ET 2004-10-29T22:43:00

The nation's cellular companies have agreed on a common standard for multimedia messaging that should enable mobile phone users to exchange photos, video and audio clips just as they do e-mail, regardless of their wireless carrier.

The technical standards, announced this week, were developed by an industry group that began meeting in May.

Since the wireless companies still need to implement the new standard and negotiate terms to deliver "outside" messages to their customers, the disparate services aren't yet interoperable.

Until then, multimedia services will remain more like instant messaging, where users of services from AOL, Yahoo! and MSN still cannot chat directly.

The lack of interoperability is seen as a key stumbling block toward wider usage of each individual carrier's multimedia offerings -- and increased wireless data revenues for the companies.

For example, while digital cameras are now a commonplace feature on cell phones, many users do not share their pictures because their friends and family do not use the same wireless service.

The impact of interoperability was immediate when a common standard was adopted for wireless text messages, better known as short messaging services, or SMS.

In less than a year after SMS became interoperable in Australia, monthly usage jumped from about 50 messages per user to 500, according to the research firm Strategy Analytics. In Britain, usage rose from about 50 SMS messages a month to 180 in just six months.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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