As I suggested yesterday, Mobile Messaging might be the mobile operators' last chance to differentiate themselves from what appears to be a headlong slide into becoming Wireless ISPs.
Phil points out that they're not doing this for our benefit, and to a certain extent I agree with him. Their primary reason is to try to work out a path to the future that involves them keeping subscriber numbers up, and keeping revenue rolling in. Given that people are already trying alternatives to SMS, with irc, IMPS and IM, SMS can't really be relied on as a significant future earner. So the operators are taking a "if you can't beat them, join them" approach to IM. Let's face it, who's going to be in better position to offer an integrated SMS/IM/IMPS/WAP mobile messaging solution than the operators?
There's just two things they've got to avoid, greedy pricing and walled garden thinking.
Sounds too easy, no?
The announcement at 3GSM that all the major GSM and 3G operators were to collaborate on an Instant Messaging program allowing interoperability between all their customers was possibly the biggest news from the show.
The operators concerned have 700 million customers, something that makes the numbers claimed by MSN, Yahoo, AOL et al for their isolated islands of deskbound instant messaging look rather insignificant. For instance, Microsoft's place in the operator's IM plans certainly looks conspicuous by its absence
The real clincher in this is the global reach, I don't need 700 million people in my buddy list/roster, but I do want my friends to be in there and every single one of them has a mobile phone (or 3).
The interoperability is going to be great too, no longer the restrictions of being on different closed proprietary IM network to certain friends, or being a user of the "wrong" operating system or computer. If the networks do this well I ought to be able to chat with my friends no matter what sort of phone they're using, or whatever network they've chosen. Real freedom.
How this is implemented under the skin will be fascinating too, personally I predict that Jabber will have a field day, sure not every client will be Jabber based, but using xmpp based servers for the core would make a lot of sense, tie this in with Jabber clients for smarter phones, and gateways for IMPS and SMS and you cover pretty much every phone model made in the last decade. Finally, far from being the poor man's choice, SMS could play a key role in the overall integration, providing messaging to phones even when the im client isn't being run, rather similar to how it provides the heavy lifting for MMS.
So is it a golden egg for the operators? Possibly, they have plenty of scope to strangle this at birth with overpriced data tariffs or awkward interoperability, something they've got a proven track record with. Also, some may look at it unfavourably as cannibalising their oldest cash-cow SMS. But, perhaps it's their last good chance to prove that they can provide something other than a walled garden and that they have a future other than as a commodity bit-pipe supplier.
We’re eagerly watching the cool overcast skies this afternoon, Steve Fossett’s Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer is due to be passing over in the next couple of hours, and being only 20 miles from Kent International Airport (nee Manston) and smack bang on the likely approach we ought to get a decent view. I suppose the big question is whether it’ll be passing us under power or gliding the final approach?
If it all goes pear-shaped I guess we’ve got a grandstand seat…