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Cellphone messengers set to overpower SMS

Internet-based instant messaging from mobile handsets with all-you-can-eat style fixed monthly bills is set to overtake pay-per-message SMS messages from handphones. Ruchi Hajela reports.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2008 23:27 IST
Ruchi Hajela

Got a chatty phone-toting youngster in the family? Consider yourself lucky. The age of overinflated SMS bills may be over if you know what to do.

Internet-based instant messaging from mobile handsets with all-you-can-eat style fixed monthly bills is set to overtake pay-per-message SMS messages from handphones, a market research study by TNS revealed on Wednesday.

Industry researcher IDC estimates that about 240 million people across the planet will be using mobile instant messaging (MIM) by 2011. It is already possible if you have an Internet-linked data plan and a compatible handset, but many people are not even aware of this cheaper alternative for those who spend a lot on SMS bills.

It makes a lot of sense if your SMS traffic is heavy, to switch to MIM. All you have to do is download free messenger software. In India, only 15 per cent of subscribers currently use MIM.

"Mobile messaging in India is very much synonymous with SMS, owning to mass adoption and MIM is still not a commonly used service,” said Parijat Chakraborty, Vice President - Technology, TNS India in a statement.

MIM is a lot like instant messaging through personal computers using applications like Yahoo Messenger or Google’s Messenger, with users not being charged anything. In mobile messaging, the service providers like Airtel offer messenger software applications that do not come free and stay in a closed loop. For instance, Airtel users pay Rs. 30 a month but can talk only to other Airtel subscribers.

However, by subscribing to a monthly Internet-enabled data plan, users can download on to their handsets applications like Nimbuzz that can link with the likes of the popular Google Talk and Windows Messenger. This enables unlimited messages.

Madhusudan Gupta, senior research analyst at Gartner, said MIM has not taken off in India because of a low penetration of compatible handsets and also because GPRS- standard services that enable Internet on mobile connections are not priced attractively. “Indian dynamics are not conducive enough to make instant messaging overtake texting in the near future,” he said.

TNS said MIM had not taken off in India yet because many users were not even aware of its potential and availability. Only 54 per cent of those it surveyed were aware, and 11 per cent were using it. Experts believe that operators will have to come up with aggressively priced data plans to push the usage of MIM in India. Chakraborty said, “With dropping GPRS connections charges and innovative packages, users will soon realise the financial benefit of sending MIM messages.”

Industry experts estimate that about 50 to 55 per cent of the wireless population is still into text messaging though the telecom regulator recorded a 19 per cent drop in usage last year. “Our non-voice revenue grew faster than voice in the last quarter and SMS contributes about 50 per cent of our value-added services,” Sanjay Kapoor, President, Mobility, Bharti Airtel , told Hindustan Times.