Instant Messaging alone is no killer app

The success of SMS has outshone all other forms of mobile messaging by a unprecedented margin. Any suggestion to replace this awkward and the user-unfriendly technology has been firmly resisted by mobile operators due to the mind-boggling revenues and margins that can be attributed to this near-ubiquitous messaging service.

This reluctance to adopt a more sophisticated messaging application has for some years effectively blocked the uptake of services such as mobile Instant Messaging (IM). An executive with Telecom Italia Mobile recently admitted that some mobile operators were unwilling to implement IM due to worries it would cannibalise their SMS revenues.

Regardless of this concern, according to vendors such as Neustar, mobile IM is the fastest-growing segment of the overall IM market, driven by the ever-increasing spread of smartphones and unlimited data plans.

Whilst this evolution will undoubtedly improve the climate for mobile IM, operators maintain that the service will not attract mass uptake as a standalone application. What they believe is that mobile IM needs to be part of a family of applications or services that includes social networking, presence, e-mail and others.

Another aspect where IM might find a home is within mobile advertising. It could provide benefit to both the advertiser and subscriber if correctly targeted and non-intrusive. The question remains, however, whether this model could be made to work technically without confusing the subscriber. Presence also has a role within this mobile IM scenario, although this is secondary to understanding who to push the advert at and when.

What is also being acknowledged is that mobile IM requires a different pricing structure than is presently seen with SMS. Vodafone has suggested that, given mobile IM is more of a conversation than just sending a message, subscribers will want to be charged on a per minute basis for using the service, as against per message.

Integrating mobile IM into the many burgeoning applications and services will not be trivial--albeit this might be the most profitable way forward.-- Paul