[Bloomberg] Wireless Text Messaging Heads Toward Becoming World Mass Market

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From: Adam Rifkin (Adam@KnowNow.Com)
Date: Sun Oct 15 2000 - 03:40:01 PDT

9 billion in August to 15 billion in December = 60% sequential growth in
just 4 months. Wow.

Wireless Text Messaging Heads Toward Becoming World Mass Market
By Jane Baird, Sun, 15 Oct 2000, 10:51am BST

London, Oct. 15 (Bloomberg) -- While the nascent mobile Internet draws
media and advertising attention, a mass market is already taking shape for
another non-vocal use of mobile phones: the short text message.

Fifteen billion text messages will be sent worldwide in the month of
December, predicts the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)
Association of almost 500 wireless network operators. That's up from 1
billion in April 1999, 3 billion in December 1999 and 9 billion in August

A form of mobile e-mail, messaging is becoming popular as cheap, pre-paid
phone usage grows, as service providers promote new mobile phone uses and
as companies link their networks so that messages can cross to any cellular
phone. Companies are starting to do business via text message and providers
see it as a way to introduce more customers to the wireless Web.

``It's the beginning of mobile data in a big way,'' said Mike Short, a
director at BT Cellnet Ltd. and chairman of the data task force at the GSM
Association. ``People are thinking about using phones for text and graphics
in the visual world rather than the vocal world.''

The technology of the text message doesn't come from the Internet. It was
incorporated from the beginning of the GSM standard about a decade ago as a
paging system to alert people to voice mails. The phone pad serves as the
``keyboard,'' allowing a user to send both text and graphics.


In the mid-1990s, young Europeans started using it as a cheap way to
communicate. In recent years, operators started connecting their networks
and promoting the service. The four U.K. networks, for example, linked
their text messaging services in May 1999.

Charges range from nothing to more than 15 British pence ($0.22) to
transmit a message of as many as 160 characters sent from a mobile phone or
a personal computer. More than 95 percent of all messages so far are
personal, Short said.

Sixteen-year-old Frances Trevena started ``texting'' in February when she
first got a pre-paid mobile phone. Orange Plc, the U.K.'s third-largest
wireless company, was offering it free at the time as a promotion.

The London student now sends as many as a dozen messages a day until ``my
thumb starts to ache,'' she said. It's cheaper than making calls, even
though she now pays 10 pence per message. Trevena figures the minimum she'd
spend on a voice call would be a pound.

Text messages are a reliable way of reaching people because they stay on
the phone, Trevena said. She's gotten through to friends in clubs where the
music was so loud they couldn't hear a call. She is also an avid user of
the graphics available for texting, like teddy bears. Her mother, Jackie,
said she prefers sending her daughter messages when she's out with friends
to ask when she's coming home ``because it's less intrusive, more tactful.''

More Services

Text messaging is moving out of the youth market now into a wider
cross-section, said Steven Yurisich, chief marketing officer for
Stockholm-based Red Message.

Services now range from stock quotes, sports scores, news and jokes to a
text-messaging blind-dating service and text calls to prayer.

That's what has encouraged the creation of ventures such as Red Message,
which buys transmission capacity from phone operators in Sweden, the U.K.,
France, Germany and Italy to provide text- messaging services for companies
to reach customers.

Red Message has more than 40 clients, including a real- estate company that
sends text messages to notify home buyers at each stage of buying a house;
a temporary job service that stays in contact with job applicants via
mobile phone and the Web; and an entertainment service that directs people
every Friday to a bar or restaurant featuring half-price drinks.

``It's a good way for businesses to build a mobile relationship with
customers, getting them used to interacting with services over their mobile
phones,'' Yurisich said. As the wireless Web develops, companies can move
their customers to more sophisticated Web services, he said.


For mobile phone companies, messaging still provides no more than 10
percent of their sales, BT Cellnet's Short said. The U.K., for example, had
a total of 560 million messages in August, up from 90 million in August
1999. At an average of 5 pence a message, Short calculated, that's about 28
million pounds between the four operators.

Wireless operators see plenty of potential, though. The number of GSM phone
users worldwide, now 380 million, is expected to reach 500 million by the
middle of next year, the GSM Association said. Text messaging also will
continue as companies shift to high-speed General Packet Radio Service

With some 85 percent of mobile phone users yet to send a text message,
there's plenty of opportunity to recruit new users, Short said. While not
yet a mass market, he said, it's headed that way.


Unfortunately many users have been trained to view ".com" as the standard ending for commercial websites. This is an artifact of the early American dominance on the Web and of the completion algorithm in several popular browsers that automatically add .com to any name. -- Jakob Nielsen, "Designing Web Usability"

We're not a dot com, we're a dot net. -- Rohit Khare

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