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I Think, Therefore IM

David Murphy

Mickael Remond, CEO of Instant messaging (IM) company ProcessOne, argues that mobile operators should do more to push mobile IM services

ProcessOne Mickael Remond Todays mobile landscape is becoming increasingly competitive, and in order to gain market share and remain profitable, operators need to change their approach. Traditionally, operators have seen text messaging as their cash cow so have tended to drive it more than other services. But with mobile handsets becoming increasingly sophisticated, users are demanding more feature-rich services. Mobile Instant Messaging (IM) is a great opportunity for operators, but not enough is being done to encourage its widespread adoption. There are a number of factors that operators must address in order to successfully increase adoption levels.

The challenges
The first challenge operators face is a lack of consumer awareness. Recent research from TNS, commissioned by ProcessOne, showed that 60% of mobile users would send fewer text messages if they were better educated on how to use mobile IM. This shows that there is a demand for mobile IM.
Most consumers are aware of IM, and at some point, have used it on their PC. But many are unaware of the benefits of having it on their mobile phone. Consumers have the basic knowledge to use IM, but they need to be educated on how to access it on their phone.
Another challenge facing mobile operators is network interoperability. Texting and mobile voice calls only took off when users were able to communicate cost-effectively with each other, irrespective of which network they were on. The same needs to happen with mobile IM, as users will want to communicate with friends and colleagues using a single IM service, rather than having multiple accounts for different networks.
Another possible reason for the slow adoption of mobile IM is confusion around pricing. The research by TNS found that 40% of the mobile users surveyed would prefer to pay on a pay-per-message basis. This is not surprising, given that text messaging is traditionally billed in this manner, and as a result, consumers are used to, and comfortable with, this billing approach. Consumers are also aware, however, that IM usually involves a larger volume of messages than texting, which can give the perception of it being more expensive.

Rising to the challenge

By taking the time and effort to clearly educate and convey the benefits of mobile IM, operators can begin to influence adoption levels. The first hurdle to address is the lack of consumer education. Operators need to discount any uncertainty that customers may have about it and actively promote the benefits, such as no character restrictions on messages, which can be a major frustration for text messaging users.
Mobile IM can also enable group chat, where users talk to a number of contacts at the same time, rather than engaging with each individually, saving time and money. In addition, users can send multimedia files much more easily using mobile IM.
The next challenge to tackle is network interoperability. Historically, when mobile phones were first introduced, it was cheaper to speak to contacts if they were on the same mobile network. But this needed to change in order for text messaging to be successful, and it is clear that interoperability will once again be a key factor in driving mobile IM adoption. If operators clearly highlight that mobile IM users can cost-effectively communicate with contacts, irrespective of what network they are on, they stand to attract new subscribers, as well as retain existing ones.
To go one step further, operators aiming to get the maximum benefit from mobile IM services should consider developing their own mobile IM client. Traditionally, IM services have been driven by providers such as MSN and Yahoo! But by creating their own-branded mobile IM service using open platforms, operators can ensure network interoperability, while using their own branding to take advantage of the opportunity to sell additional services to their subscribers.
Lastly, to help speed up adoption of mobile IM, operators needs to show clearer pricing models that demonstrate its cost effectiveness for the consumer. Evidence shows that consumers are willing to use the service if it is priced correctly, so there is plenty of room for mobile operators to develop innovative pricing options. These could include flat-rate or micro-billing for add-on IM services such as file downloads, helping to increase ARPU (average revenue per user). 

Take action
Although mobile IM is a great opportunity for operators, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done before adoption becomes widespread. To help drive adoption levels, operators must tackle challenges such as education, pricing and network interoperability. Once they have established their user base, they can harness this demand to expose new business opportunities and increase revenue and drive profits. If the operators do all this, they can expect to see the benefits on the bottom line. 

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