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    Messaging not an instant


    Operators have enough of a challenge getting mobile email to the mass market, but the race now appears to be genuinely on for mobile IM.

    Mobile Instant Messaging scares the pants off some operators because they see it as cannibalising SMS revenues. Others see it as more of an opportunity to create more data use — taking a view that SMS and IM are different kind of behaviours.and likely to complement rather than substitute each other.
    So what is the “natural” partner of choice for mobile IM? One obvious way ahead might be to look to a browser based solution, and indeed Mobile Europe can remember two February’s ago in Cannes being pitched by Openwave and MSN a story about integrating MSN Messenger into Openwave’s browser platform. But, the problem there is you are talking WAP, and at the mass market level that is probably too complex a solution.
    The other obvious candidate might be the mobile email providers themselves, which means Blackberry, Visto, Seven, and whoever else. The drawback here is, with the exception perhaps of Blackberry, these companies are either more enterprise based, or in the early stages of taking mobile email mass market. Do they have the relationships with the IM client companies (chiefly MSN, AOL and Yahoo, but keep an eye on Google)? Probably not. Do they have their hands full getting their respective email clients on to phones and servers into the networks? Yes
    Then there are the handset vendors themselves. Nokia has just taken the mobile email bull by the horns by launching its own software client for mobile email — a Java-based solution that can be deployed on any Java MIDPI 2.0-capable phone, once certified by Nokia. But as Brian Bogosian, Chairman, President and CEO of Visto, points out, even this mass-corporate solution suffers the weakness of being “another device-driven solution, similar to those of RIM and Microsoft, that is unable to meet market demand for real device choice while remaining agnostic to data source.”
    The issue would remain the same in IM, only more so, as handset vendors would be looking not at putting their own client onto handsets, but at doing multiple deals with the IM client providers most people are already using online.
    Another route would be to talk to the messaging companies themselves.  Comverse is one company here which is certainly talking to operators about  its approach to presence based messaging. The attraction of this is that these are companies which understand the processing and scale of mass-messaging. Their approach is to leverage the messaging infrastructure they have in the market, along with presence technology such as SIP, to enable IM sessions within the messaging functionality of the phone.
    A final approach is coming from a newer breed of competitor – software companies who mirror many of the mobile email providers in their desire to market client software ontop handsets. The difference is these companies come with relationships with the IM client companies. One such is Canadian company OZ Communications.
    OZ has deals in place with MSN, Yahoo and AOL to replicate their icons on mobile screens, allowing users a single click through to a mobile version of the IM experience. OZ provides a gateway which sits in the operator network or can be hosted, which connects the mobile user, over GPRS, to their IM account with any of the big service providers using their existing username and password. Beverley Wilks, marketing manager, says that OZ has met some European operator opposition to the concept, but points to US style bucket pricing – some texts and some instant messages for a fixed price -as a possible way ahead. Certainly the same problems exist as for mobile email client providers – chiefly getting the client onto handsets and educating users into how to use the service, but Wilks is confident the marketing can be overcome. Bell Canada recently sent four million SMS to users informing them IM was available, she points out.

    Wilks says she expects some announcements from European operators around the time you should be reading this (late September).
    Another company to address mobile IIM, albeit in a slightly more limited way is Commontime, which has launched mobile Lotus Instant Messaging. mNotes Lotus Instant Messaging Support, enterprise instant messaging for Windows Mobile, is now available as part of mSuite newly released version 4. mNotes is CommonTime’s mobile/wireless Lotus Notes messaging solution. The solution is aimed at eliminating business users exposing their companies to security problems through use of web “unsecured” messaging such as MSN and AOL, but is limited to users of Windows Mobile within enterprises using Lotus Notes.
    After operators have cracked mobile email for the mass market, then, mobile Instant Messaging looks set to present just as many challenges.