Those who felt that moving the annual 3GSM World Congress from its long time home, Cannes in Southern France, to Barcelona in Spain, was a mistake were proved emphatically wrong last week. With more than 50,000 visitors (up from 33,000+ in 2005) and more than 960 stands (up by 47% from 2005), the 2006 event was a massive success. Organisers Informa were justly pleased with this surge in revenue, which was backed by daily newspapers weighty with advertising. It was also presumably particularly satisfying to Informa as this will be the last year the company has full control of the event, the 2007 show being organized by the GSM Association (GSMA).
It was the GSMA that started the week in dramatic fashion with a press conference at which 15 of the world's largest GSM operators announced plans to jointly develop and introduce instant messaging (IM) services. This joint activity represents something of a volte-face as only a few months ago many of these operators were either doing one-on-one deals with the likes of AOL and MSN or denying that there was any possibility of them introducing IM on the grounds that it would cannibalise their existing messaging revenues. Some commentators on this new initiative, code named Personal IM, see it as a tacit admission that MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), widely hyped as the evolution of the wildly successful SMS, has failed to achieve its objectives. To a man, the operator representatives denied that IM would cannibalize SMS.
'Personal IM will build on the popularity of text messaging by adding presence information, instant delivery and the ability to see an entire conversation,' suggested Vodafone CEO Arun Sarun.
'I believe that IM and SMS will complement each other,' said Rene Oberman, CEO of T-Mobile, 'messaging will trigger more messaging.'
The problem facing operators looking to cash in on the success of IM in the fixed-line environment is that services such as MSN Messenger, AOL and Yahoo are free, a word which strikes fear into the hearts of mobile operators. As the average IM conversation consists of more than twenty messages, cost is a real issue.
Apparently Personal IM users will only pay to send messages not to receive them, although whether this will be enough to tempt existing fixed line IM addicts to switch is the great unknown factor. Commenting on the announcement, Tommy Volsen, VP marketing and co-founder of IM experts Followap, was not unnaturally very positive. 'Agreeing to mutually interconnect opens the door for the networks to capitalize on millions of IM Messaging aware SMS users who are ready to adopt PIM but will insist on being able to communicate irrespective of network.'
Volsen went on to say that marketing Instant Messaging under their own brands would enable these operators to define their territory, declaring them to be the communication provider for their customers. This strategy, he said, would secure the network's investment in brand value, enabling them to confidently invest in Instant Messaging, and at the same time strengthening services to customers.
Despite the pre-show hype that 2006 would be the year of IMS, there was surprisingly little buzz on this subject around the halls.
Oh well, another 3GSM, different venue, same old faces, more hot technology -- and still customers cling to boring old voice and SMS. Perhaps it will be different at 3GSM 2007 -- which will again be in Barcelona -- but then again perhaps not.