Stepping toward total messaging

The age of unified messaging has been coming ever closer. Now, mobile phone users who are true email junkies gain access to their text - and even voice - messages thanks to a variety of new services being launched around the world.


Yahoo, Google, Teleflip and SpinVox all recently launched services that can automatically deliver your email messages directly to your "dumb" telephone, essentially turning it into a "smart" device that can rival any Treo or BlackBerry.


Google's Gmail for Mobile, for example, allows you to simply install a Java program on your phone that creates a miniature version of the website. The service also lets you open PDF, photo and Word files. Google says the program can run on about 300 mobile phones.


Yahoo provides a similar service, Yahoo Go 2.0 that does Google one better: It constantly checks for email and pushes it to your phone; a new version introduced in late June allows for the accessing Microsoft Office documents.


Teleflip is a free service that coverts your email to text messages that are sent to your phone four times an hour. You can also reply to messages right from your mobile phone.


SpinVox, the most ambitious of all, allows wireless subscribers who sign up to have their incoming voicemail messages converted to text and sent to any device (or multiple devices) they choose, which eliminates the need to access voice and email separately.


The service started in the UK back in 2003 and gained about 150,000 subscribers through retail sales.  Daniel Doulton, the company co-founder, says a little more than a year ago SpinVox began providing its service through wireless carriers. It is available in Canada, the US, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. An expansion to Asian markets is planned.


"Asia is on the roadmap for 2008," says Doulton. "There are some trials underway in one or two regions of Asia.


It's a whole new area for us to try, but one problem is that the use of voicemail is far less prevalent in the Asian market, so it is more like a completely new product for consumers. It's a little more of a challenge."


Carriers such as Vodafone or, more recently, Cincinnati  Bell in the US, that provide can either provide it as part of a packaged plan for high-value customers or simply set a price point for the service. "Most carriers charge for it as a value-add service," he notes. Cincinnati Bell, for example, offers subscribers several price packages that start at $4.99 a month. The regional carrier intends to offer it to wireline customers later this year.


Some 46 carriers around the world are testing the service and at least 12 plan to deploy it this year, according to Doulton.


He says the service is a convenience that helps carriers retain customers, cut churn and generate revenue through increased traffic. He notes carriers that have offered the service have seen text messaging and voice messaging volume more than 7%.