Mobile phone picture messaging is on the up and up. Figures released today show that nearly 448 million photo messages were sent in the UK last year.

The Mobile Data Association's UK mobile report for the final three months of 2007 shows that nearly two million photo and video messages were sent on New Year's Eve alone. We can only gasp that the mobile networks didn’t collapse under all those video renditions of Auld Lang Syne and photographic evidence of seasonal overindulgence.

Released today, the MDA's report shows that picture messaging rose 55 percent last year. The report compared the number of photos sent by phone in December 2006 and 2007 and found a rise from 32 million to 58 million.

While figures for December may be unusually high given the hijinks often associated with Christmas parties, plus the urge for people to share photos with friends and family, the increase in picture messaging doesn’t look like abating.

It took six years for text messaging to reach the one billion-per-year mark. MMS has today, after only five years and 50 percent penetration of cameraphones, achieved 50 percent of this target already.

This is despite the fact that not all mobile phone handsets support photo or video messaging.

More interestingly - at least for companies providing content that can be shared using mobile phones - internet access from the phone seems to be the next big thing. This is good news for data services-based companies that have staked their all in a bid to turn a profit from the high stakes 3G market.

The Mobile Data Association report says 23 percent of UK mobile phone owners are now using their handsets to access the internet. In December 2007 alone, 17 million handsets were used to get online. Doing so has long been possible on many phones, but was seen as far too expensive – and often too clunky an experience – for people to bother with.

Now, however, uploading video blogs to news sites, social-networking sites and sending Flickr photos to online galleries have become second nature to many consumers.

Cost and ease of use have been the key drivers here, with 2007 seeing a move towards flat-rate mobile internet access rates from the likes of T-Mobile with its Web’n’Walk service vying for prominence similar deals from the likes of Vodafone.

Mobile Data Association chairman Mike Short said, “New devices, competitive data tariffs and wider content choice mean it has never been easier for users to send an email, take a picture or access internet content".

Short is confident that internet access and data-based services will continue their upward trend in 2008.

"The mobile industry remains one of the fastest-growing sectors throughout the world. Whether you look at Asia, India, Europe or the UK, the story is the same; mobile technology is enhancing and even shaping the way we live our daily lives,” said Short.

As well as cheaper data tariffs, consumers have come to expect more capable handsets, often with multiple ways of getting online. Smartphones from the likes of RIM, Nokia and Apple with the BlackBerry, Nokia N95 and Apple iPhone, respectively, have each carved out significant and separate market segments using GPRS, 3G and Wi-Fi.

Multimedia features such as multigigabyte music, photo and video storage and playback, in tandem with successful music and online video services from the likes of Sony Ericsson and YouTube have also helped extend the way consumers use their phones.

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