RealTime IT News

Microsoft to Deliver IM to Euro Wireless Phones

Microsoft Corp. is further extending the reach of its MSN Messenger service into Europe. And the software behemoth is cutting some wires to do it, too.

Microsoft has confirmed that its free IM service will be made available on mobile phones via 2 way SMS text messaging in Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. As a result of the new agreements with MSN Mobile carrier partners in the six markets, MSN Instant Messenger is now available via any SMS-enabled wireless phone to over 24 million mobile phone users across Europe.

Carriers involved in the deal include Swisscom in Switzerland and Proximus in Belgium. Both companies will also provide their users with MSN Hotmail e-mail access.

Other carriers that will provide MSN Messenger services to their respective client bases are KPN Mobile Netherlands, TDC Mobile of Denmark, Switzerland's Swisscom, ONE/Connect (Austria), Telenor (Norway) and Turkcell (Turkey).

Users of the service will pay extra to send and receive messages via their wireless phones. If a MSN Messenger user is not available via his PC, the system will then forward the message to his wireless phone via SMS. At that point, the wireless user can communicate with the other person via SMS.

Microsoft is wading into an SMS pool that's already teeming with users -- 5 billion SMS messages are sent every month, according to IDC's total SMS user data for 2001. This means that on average, European users each send around 48 SMS per month. Microsoft said the potential of the service becomes apparent when over 90% of MSN Messenger users in Europe have a mobile device and more than 50% of them regularly use SMS, according to internal estimates.

Microsoft already has a U.S.-based deal with Verizon Wireless, unveiled last month, to deliver IM and targeted content to the mobile firm's 30-million customers. The services are available to Verizon Wireless customers who have a digital Web-enabled wireless phone and will be featured on future "smart" phones yet to hit the market.

The alliance marks the first time that MSN Instant Messaging will be available to US-based Verizon customers with WAP-enabled digital phones. Already, WAP-enabled subscribers pay about $6.95 a month for services that include Web-based Hotmail and slices of news and content stripped down for a small screen. The new service will include the IM service and eventually ringtones and even more detailed news features that can be downloaded onto subscribers' devices.

In addition to the consumer-targeted services, the two are joining forces to develop and market Windows-based Pocket PC applications to the corporate marketplace, built on the .NET Web services platform. The alliance also signals that no sector of the wireless market will go uncovered.

Deutsche Telekom-owned VoiceStream Wireless, meantime, offers a built-in version of AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) on new Nokia 3390 cell phones. Available exclusively to VoiceStream wireless customers, the Nokia 3390 with the AIM service is the first mobile phone to include the service as a built-in application, officials said last November.

AOL is also integrating AIM into Samsung's leading-edge wireless phone, the SGH-r225M. The r225M is a GSM wireless handset that enable users to personalize their phones through a host of innovations.

PDA users itching to use IM can buy Palm's i705, which includes AIM.

All of the wireless deals are hitting the market as IM usage in the U.S. grows. Nearly 40% of the active U.S.-based Internet-using population at home logged onto one of the public IM networks at least once in the month of May, while 31% of U.S. business 'Net surfers used IM in that same time frame, according to a Nielsen//NetRatings study.

Broken out in numbers of users, more than 41 million consumers used one of the four IM networks -- AOL's AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger -- in May, while nearly 12.6 million office workers used instant messaging.

In the at-home market, AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) took the top spot, attracting more than 22 million unique users or 53.4% of those using a public IM network. MSN Messenger came in second with nearly 15.7 million Internet users (38%), while Yahoo Messenger was third with 12.4 million (30%). Rounding out the list, ICQ users totaled nearly 4.4 million (8.8%) during the month.

Of the at-work market, AOL's AIM came in first at 6.5 million users or 56% of the people using a public IM client. MSN Messenger was in second with 5.3 million (42.4%), and Yahoo Messenger came in third with 3.7 million users (29.6%). And as in the at-home segment, ICQ was last at work with 1.1 million users (8.8%).

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.