The established mobile industry is in danger of missing the boat regarding mobile instant messaging (IM) and community networks warns an in-depth report from analysts BKI Media and fastmobile.
The report forecasts that established brands will take over and dominate the mobile IM space, and therefore lead the development of mobile communities, unless operators and vendors recognise the opportunity and act quickly to improve the use of IM-based services and networking.
Founder and chief analyst at BKI Media, Bena Roberts says: "Microsoft, Google and Yahoo! are putting serious resources into moving IM on to the mobile, so operators mustn't waste time reinventing the wheel, or they'll find themselves by-passed."
The report also highlights research from Informa predicting that the greatest growth in messaging revenue will come from IM ? up by a factor of six between 2007 and 2009 with as many as 1.9bn free, public mobile IM accounts. Gartner have also said that if mobile operators want to cash in on this messaging bonanza they will need to embed services themselves to avoid being disintermediated, so the writing is clearly on the wall.
"Together with the handset vendors," Roberts adds, "the operators must act now to be ready to ease the take-up of mobile text IM and pave the way for the explosion in social networking and voice and video IM that will follow. If they don't, the market will take longer to develop and the Internet brands will capture the value-add revenues and turn the operators into simple bit pipes."
The report states clearly that IM will be the single biggest driving force in the activation of mobile communities and argues that the application therefore needs to launch seamlessly from the handset and not require a browser-led experience which will only serve to promote existing Internet brands.
John Hoffman, CEO of fastmobile, who sponsored the report, also believes that integration is the key.
"We think that the way people use their mobiles is key and that the contact list is the driving force. From your contacts and groups you should be able to drive everything you do on your phone.
"Your first thought when you pick up your phone is not, I need to make a call or send a message; it is I want to contact Joe, Jacquie or Kevin, or my music club. Launching straight from the contact page into voice, sms, IM or a group blogging site puts you in control and your phone at the heart of social networking," he explains.
Instant messaging needs instant action
The report also considers that with the majority of users likely to currently be in the 16-24 age group, many of them with low disposable income, price points and data charges are a key area.
While operators in Europe and Asia have resisted the "all-you-can-eat" data tariffs common in the USA and have feared becoming mere bit pipes; the report predicts that the first operators who break step and goes flat rate will gain an early lead in nascent market that is primed to grow.
In particular, the report considers alternatives involving the bundling of specific data services ? already happening with SMS and business email ? in order to appeal directly to the target group.
This would also allow operators to monitor understand patterns of usage and potentially construct "killer" bundles of say, music downloads plus IM which could help differentiate operator services and foster greater customer loyalty.
"Communities are exploding on the net," says Hoffman, "and our platform can take the experience mobile ? giving people the power to connect and interact with their friends, families and network communities. We can give the operators the tools to take the most popular desktop networking applications and put them in the hands of their mobile customers ? and that's the way to liberate the market opportunity."
The report concludes that mobile communities are currently dormant and need to be activated.
"There is an enormous amount of evidence that shows this is what consumers want, and that IM is the key," says author Roberts. "But the mobile industry is not doing enough to meet that demand - despite the fact that it desperately needs to make money from services other than SMS and phone calls. "It's a wake-up call" she adds, "and I hope the mobile operator community is listening."
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