CTIA SPECIAL EDITION – APRIL 3, 2008
Sure, SMS is still the kingpin, but other modes of messaging are emerging.
SMS continues to be an extremely popular data feature, with 104.9 million mobile phone users (47.9%) sending a text message in January 2008. That’s up from 78.3 million in January 2007, according to M:Metrics, which surveys mobile media consumers on a monthly basis.
“The year 2007 was a banner year for SMS, with 1.9 trillion text messages sent,” adds Damian Sazama, vice president of marketing and product development for Fort Myers, Fla.-based Interop Technologies, which provides wireless messaging, device management and personalized solutions. “And analysts are predicting a 20% increase in 2008. SMS is evolving from a ‘nice to have’ service to more of a necessity.”
Interop recently introduced its SMSC 4.0 solution that “provides carriers with an extremely robust infrastructure to support text messaging.” This scalable solution enables carriers to replace legacy platforms without having to rip out their existing infrastructure, Sazama says.
Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), on the other hand, has not taken off as quickly. In fact, by contrast, only 48 million users (or 21.9%) sent a message with a photo or video in January 2008, up from 29.4 million in January 2007, according to M: Metrics.
Sims: A message
is a message.
One of the key reasons MMS has not experienced the same kind of growth as SMS is because operators and vendors marketed different messaging technologies, such as SMS, MMS and Mobile Instant Messaging, said John Sims, CEO of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based 724 Solutions. 724 delivers intelligent any-to-any service message and traffic handling solutions.
“Users don’t think that way – to them, a message is a message,” Sims says. “What distinguishes a message is time frame and content. Instead, we as an industry extended those silos to the user, and those terms in themselves tend to be inhibitors to adapters of anything new.”
When MMS first was introduced in Europe, for example, users had to sign up for a different service and the pricing was quite different – causing it to get off to a very slow start. Now the pricing is more reasonable and more of the devices are available, Sims says.
Sims says he believes that MMS will continue to grow along with an increase in application content versus person-to-person (P2P) messaging. One current example is “Footie on the Phone,” offered by Vodafone in the U.K., which launched the service through 724’s messaging platforms for Application to Person (A2P) bulk MMS.
“Footie” uses MMS messaging to send alerts to U.K. soccer fans about team news or happenings in specific games. Users can receive photos and text or, for an extra fee, view video of an entire game or a goal being scored.
In another example, 724 is working with China Mobile to offer newspaper content to mobile phone users, with the goal of implementing it before the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Mobile phone users also want to send instant messages from their mobile phones to people on their desktops. Rather than having to download an application to their phones in order to do so, 724’s Seamless Messaging enables users to send a text message that is translated into an instant message and sent to someone’s desktop. That person can then reply, and his or her IM is translated into a text message for the mobile phone user.
“It’s using two discrete technologies, but it doesn’t require anyone to get a new technology,” Sims says.
The messaging business will grow by increasing the number of interoperable domains, which will lead to more activity, Sims notes, adding that “the key is to make it as simple as possible for the users.”
One company that is attempting to simplify the user experience is Cambridge, Mass.-based vLingo, which formed in 2006 and is making its first product announcement at CTIA. The company has created a voice-powered interface for mobile phones. Users can “speak” anything they want, and it is translated into a text message. They also can “tell” the phone to perform various functions.
“It’s a network-based solution that solves the last barriers to mobile application solutions,” says vLingo President and CEO Dave Grannan. “That includes discoverability – it can be used on any phone, and usability – users are not constrained by the interface or a tiny keyboard.”
vLingo’s voice-recognition technology also is not grammar-limited. Users can say anything, and it will be translated into text. The device works with all messaging applications. For example, someone can say, “take a photo and label it” or “send a message to Mike.
“Many users don’t know how to find these applications – with our product, you just say what you want your phone to do,” Grannan says, adding that it also solves the major safety issue of people trying to text while driving.
Another company that is trying to simplify the user experience and offer new applications is Toronto-based Mpathix, a provider of voice and data messaging solutions. Mpathix offers a Voicemail-to-MMS product that displays all of a user’s voicemail messages, showing the date and time of each call and letting the user select which message he or she wants to hear. Mpathix also is supporting a Voicemail-to-Text message service for one of its major customers that has yet to be launched.
“That product tends to be more of a premium service – for the BlackBerry crowd,” says Clayton Bodnarek, vice president of sales for Mpathix.
In addition, on March 1, Alaska DigiTel rolled out Mpathix’s Voicemail-to-Email service. It enables wireless customers to view, manage and listen to their voicemail messages from any personal or business e-mail account.
“Our customer companies are going after the market on more than one front,” Bodnarek says. “The way e-mail is used, people want it on their computers, but they also want it on their phones while they’re traveling. The industry is fragmented because people’s usage patterns don’t fit into a completely unified model.”
Mpathix also is taking advantage of the growing social networking trend by working to integrate telecom and social networks. The company soon will be launching with one of its clients a new product called “mBlogger.” It is a voice-powered application that allows mobile phone users to post audio clips to their Facebook profile. Users can share voicemail messages, concert clips, audio blogs and more.
“Companies may choose not to charge for that service, but they are continually trying to differentiate themselves and show that they have sexy applications for a particular demographic,” Bodnarek says.
Mike Edgett, director of product marketing for Movius Interactive, agrees. He believes changes in media usage and social networking will drive new customer demands.
“People want to use messaging versus real-time voice,” Edgett said, “We’ll see a growth in demand for instant messaging between people and a greater interest in advertising and commerce.”
Duluth, Georgia-based Movius is the new corporate brand of the former IP Unity Glenayre.
“Those are the reasons we re-branded the company’s name as Movius,” Edgett says. “It represents mobile, video, community and sharing – and will feature a stylized “i” to reinforce the idea of individuality and interactivity. We’ve changed our market focus from one of messaging and collaboration to the interactive mobile media space.”
One of Movius’ main focuses is Mobile Instant Messaging, which is essentially SMS with presence, Edgett says.
“It can do everything that MMS was supposed to be able to do – people will still want to share photos and videos. I think MMS will slowly disappear, and the two will eventually become one and the same,” he says. “Mobile IM allows users to build communities and to chat with people with similar interests. It also helps to build loyalty within a customer base.”
Movius recently partnered with Action Engine Corporation, The On-Device Portal Company, to launch new, feature-rich mobile media services.
Industry spokespeople agree that the messaging segment will need to consider a variety of issues to improve customer service. Some of those issues, according to an Interop-authored white paper include:
- ensuring that messaging functions as seamlessly as voice does for subscribers.
- creating industry forums to address issues such as best practices in making messaging consumer and text-friendly. According to Interop’s Sazama, industry representatives will be meeting to discuss these topics at CTIA’s Wireless 2008.