Ask LH: Are There Any Good Alternatives To MMS?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m looking into alternatives to sending MMS pictures. As a Virgin Mobile customer, the ability to send an MMS to an Irish phone is not supported. I know some countries are supported, but unfortunately not Ireland, where most of my family reside.

I know it’s not really a big deal, what with the wealth of social communication tools available, but I still know some people who have a phone and not much else! So my question is: how can I send an image directly to an Irish phone, be it from email or some other means. I have tried some free services, and paid services, but the result is random at best. Maybe Lifehacker readers would have a suggestion?


Picture by renepaik

Dear MMMess,

In an era when most people didn’t have smartphones and photo-sharing options via social networking sites simply didn’t exist, being able to send an MMS picture was very handy. An added bonus is that MMS messages can be sent for a fixed cost. This is typically around 50 cents for an Australian MMS and 75 cents for an international destination, though those costs will vary depending on which plan you use.

The first big downside of MMS, as you’ve discovered, is that in some cases (such as the one you describe) it isn’t available. Typically, this is because the partner network your provider has in a given country either doesn’t support MMS at all, or wants to charge so much for access to that service that it isn’t viable.

However, even if MMS is supported, its reliability is often variable. Lifehacker’s night editor Elly recently discovered that MMS messages sent from her Telstra phone were not being received if she sent to an Optus number. Getting that issue fixed required multiple phone calls across several levels of support; I don’t think I’d have had the pateience, and if an overseas carrier had been involved, the cost of actually making the calls would have become prohibitive.

The most obvious piece of advice would be to switch to a mobile provider which did list Ireland amongst its recipient destinations, and if you’re keen to regularly send pictures, then that does need to be a factor in your network choice.

However, that won’t necessarily solve your problem. Aside from general reliability, some international MMSes end up being sent as web links rather than actual pictures. Depending on the phone and network your relatives use, that will either be no use at all or will result in high data charges for accessing the picture — probably not the outcome you want to promote.

The problem with most of the MMS alternatives is this: anyone who has access to email or browsing on their phone doesn’t need MMS anyway, since you could send the photos via email or share them on Facebook or place them on Picasa Web Albums or Flickr or Skydrive or Dropbox. Someone whose phone can only handle basic text and MMS is going to be something of a challenge.

At the risk of sounding defeatist, printing out photos you like and sending them via snail mail to Ireland might ultimately prove more reliable, albeit less convenient, for any relations who really don’t have Internet access in any form. But I’m confident Lifehacker readers will have other suggestions.


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