Slow Progress Of Mobile Instant Messaging

The Wall Street Journal has a piece pondering the whereabouts of mobile instant messaging. The technical standards are in place, the business standards are in place, it’s widely believed there is a strong consumer demand, but carriers have been slow to make it available — or more accurately, to sign interoperability agreements so people are not restricted to using IM to others on the same carrier.
The article suggests that the reason for this is that carriers are worried about cannabalizing their SMS traffic, which is the major money earner for data services. I think the idea will be bulk — individual mobile instant messages will be shorter and cheaper than SMS, so the idea is to get people to send more. The WSJ notes some differences between the two services which could see this happening: “MIM features “presence” services that tell a user if and when their buddies are on the network. It also allows instant delivery of messages, and MIM users can chat in groups rather than just one to one. In addition, MIM allows users to communicate using aliases, whereas text messaging reveals the sender’s telephone number.”
Stephanie Pittet, a principal analyst for mobile devices and consumer services at research firm Gartner, notes that both carriers and online IM providers want to maintain control of the messaging community, but since the carriers have found it difficult to build communities from scratch and the online guys don’t have mobile networks they’ll need to cooperate. “If the operators’ mobile-IM services are to gain credibility with consumers, they will need to interoperate with pre-existing Internet-based IM services and the PC-based IM environment,” she said. But it’s only recently that any of the big online IM guys have sought interoperability — before then they actively discouraged it. Of course, that just meant that people often downloaded several different IM programs, something which is a lot less feasible on mobiles.