Mobile IM needs action

The mainstream mobile business is in danger of missing out on mobile instant messaging and community networks, according to analysts BKI Media and fastmobile.

Their report forecasts that established brands will take over the mobile IM space, and therefore dominate the development of mobile communities. Informa has predicted that the greatest growth in messaging revenue will come from IM – increasing by a factor of six between 2007 and 2009 with as many as 1.9bn free, public mobile IM accounts.

BKI’s Bena Roberts thinks this could mean problems for the networks: “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 bypassed.”

“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 argues that IM will be the single biggest driver in the activation of mobile communities. It suggests that the application needs to launch seamlessly from the handset, rather than requiring a browser-led experience “which will only serve to promote existing Internet brands”.

John Hoffman, CEO of report sponsors fastmobile, also believes that integration is the key. “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.”

The report also looks at the business model. With the majority of users likely to be young and with relatively low disposable incomes, price points and data charges are key; flat-rate ‘all-you-can-eat’ data tariffs and the kind of service bundles already familiar from SMS and business email will be needed in order to appeal to the target group.

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.”