RealTime IT News

Handset Makers Forge Instant Messaging Alliance

America Online Inc. and Microsoft Corp. can't lay claim to spearheading the instant messaging (IM) scene anymore. Top handset providers Ericsson, Motorola, and Nokia Thursday set aside their competitive natures to announce an initiative to create a universal protocol for mobile instant messaging.

Called the Wireless Village, or specifically, the Mobile Instant Messaging and Presence (IMPS) initiative, the specifications will be used for exchanging messages and presence information between mobile devices, mobile services and Web-based instant messaging services.

The three firms took up the issue because mobile IM lacks a common, interoperable solution. For example, Jabber.com has its own application as do AOL and Microsoft. The handset makers have also addressed the issue at a time when companies are stretching their resources to include multimedia content for PDAs, wireless pagers and Web-enabled cell phones -- think audio and video clips and images with traditional text messaging.

Service providers such as MessageVine were quick to endorse the initiative. MessageVine said it intends to lend its full support to the Wireless Village. "It's fantastic news that such major players are backing mobile instant messaging and presence services," said Amit Rahav VP international operations at MessageVine. "Achieving interoperability for wireless IMPS will be a major step forwards in creating the next generation of mobile messaging. We hope that the rest of the wireless industry will also get behind this initiative."

Beyond addressing the IM situation, the firms will establish presence services in order to provide a system for sharing personal information about the user's status, location and the moods of their friends and colleagues (will they or won't they go postal) -- a kind of "smart" technology. Much like the way users at their PCs can tell when colleagues or friends hop onto AIM, presence services allow users to subscribe listings of which friends or colleagues are currently online.

The instant messaging specification will be hashed out using prevalent bearer protocols and other well-adapted standards, such as SMS (Short Messaging Services), MMS (Multimedia Messaging Services), WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), and XML (Extensible Markup Language). The service will also feature security capabilities for user authentication, secure message transfer and access control.

Amid public statements from Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola about how important instant messaging is to the Web, Jan Svensson, Ericsson's vice president and PU manager for GSM and UMTS mobile phones, claimed "people have taken instant messaging to their hearts."

While that may be stretching thing a bit, IM has certainly caught on with the younger generation, Y. Teens that aren't set on hearing friends' voices often forego the phone for IM. And colleagues at work use it as an important collaborative tool.

"Ericsson strongly believes that the Wireless Village initiative is a major step towards being able to provide a truly global instant messaging solution and also meet consumers needs also in the mobile world," Svensson said.

Janiece Webb, senior vice president and general manager of Motorola's Internet Software and Content Group, went a bit further Thursday when she said the Wireless Village will "drive the usage of GPRS and 3rd Generation data services, generating new revenue sources and innovative solutions for service providers."

As the world now knows, 3G may be farther off than people originally thought. A study from Cahners In-Stat Group said as much. Though Cahners acknowledged 3G services may balloon to 50 percent of the market by 2005, it said 3G will make up just 4.7 percent of the worldwide wireless market by the end of this year.

The Wireless Village initiative said it will try to publish the specifications by the end of the year, as well as sponsor interoperability demonstrations of mobile devices and wireless services that support the specifications. Other players in the IM market may join in support if they desire and additional info may be found here.

Interestingly enough, the Big 3 of handset making joined Jabber.com, which specializes in providing IM services for the enterprise sector, in trying to push IM standards forward. On Monday this week, Jabber.com formed the Jabber Foundation. Much like the operating system Linux in its open source endeavors, Jabber.com is a purveyor of open source IM as a kind of answer to AOL, which has refused to reveal source code for its AIM application.

Modeled on the Apache and Gnome organizations, the Jabber Foundation is a membership-based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting the Jabber open source movement.

Michael Bauer, vice president of Open Alliances at Jabber.com, said his company was excited about the alliance, and vowed that the Wireless Village has Jabber's full support.