Mobile phone company Orange has become the second operator to launch a picture messaging service, as the industry looks to boost its flagging fortunes.
Users will be charged 40p to send picture messages via handsets such as the Sony Ericsson T68i camera phone or the Nokia 7650, which is due to launch at the end of the month.
T-Mobile was the first to offer photo messaging, charging users a flat rate of £20 per month. Rivals O2 and Vodafone also plan to offer the service later this year.
But Orange warned that the operators would still have to work together to ensure that users would be able to send picture messages between networks.
With handset ownership heading towards saturation, the mobile phone companies have been searching for new sources of revenue.
The operators have been keen to draw comparisons with the popularity of SMS, with Orange predicting that 40 per cent of its users will use picture messaging by 2005.
The new service would allow users "to communicate on a much more personal level", said David Taylor, commercial director of Orange UK.
But analysts remain cool over the likely take-up of the technology. Ovum has predicted that the market will be worth $70bn globally by 2007, but John Delaney, the company's principal analyst, warned that growth was unlikely until "around 2004-2005".
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