Is Wireless Instant Messaging the Future of Communication?

SYDNEY — With the wildfire-like adoption of instant messaging on the web as a relevant precedent, will the extension of the concept to wireless devices create a similar market?

Recognition from companies such as Hotmail and Yahoo that the web is primarily a communications medium has been absolutely fundamental to their success. Thus far, communication centric applications such as email and instant messaging have dominated Internet usage. AOL, for instance, says that its members send 110 million emails and over 600 million instant messages each day.

With the furious uptake of SMS messaging, are the benefits of instant messaging compelling enough to replace its simpler counterpart?

Sending 160 characters of text to another phone may not sound that compelling in itself, however the GSM Association estimates that over 10 billion SMS messages are sent around the globe each month. Ostensibly what instant messaging brings to wireless devices is contact management and the ability to configure different levels of availability.

In the US the concept of wireless instant messaging has experienced a great deal of success. Research In Motion – manufacturer of the Blackberry messaging device – has sold over 200,000 units to business users and corporate America. Research In Motion is now working on expanding its consumer strategy through recent alliances with AOL and Yahoo! to market co-branded blackberry devices to Yahoo! and AOL’s vast userbases. Pricing for the service is $US329 and a $US19/month flat fee for service provision.

It’s important to place the case study in context however, with SMS usage amongst American mobile phone owners almost non-existent. What the example does provide, is an insight into the compellingness of wireless instant messaging. What’s currently not clear however, is if the value is great enough to overturn and replace SMS.

A problem that the major mobile phone handset makers are looking to circumvent is the closed nature of current web-based instant messaging networks. For instance, a Yahoo! instant messaging client is unable to contact an ICQ user at present. To this end, Ericsson, Motorola, and Nokia announced an agreement yesterday that will see a set of universal instant messaging specifications formed for wireless instant messaging. The project, entitled the ‘Wireless Village,’ intends to publish a framework of specifications by the end of this year.

With the limited success of WAP and unlikelihood of streaming video becoming the killer application for wireless, industry advocates may turn to instant messaging to be the savior of the ‘3G revolution’.

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