A record nine billion Short Message Service (SMS) messages were sent worldwide during August, according to figures released Thursday by the GSM Association.
The Association has now revised its predictions for SMS growth in 2000. It has expected the ten billion per month mark to be reached in December 2000, but this figure was probably achieved in September. Instead, the Association is forecasting that 15 billion SMSs will be sent in December.
According to Jim Healy, GSM Association chair, SMS has become a mass-market phenomenon. "SMS initially took time to catch on and reach a critical mass point in Europe before suddenly exploding," Healey said. "We are now witnessing a subtle shift in the world of wireless communications, from the verbal to the visual," he added.
Tim Sheedy, wireless and mobile communications analyst at IDC, believes that the popularity of SMS is positive news for other wireless technologies such as WAP and UMTS. "This shows that people are changing their view of what a mobile phone can be used for and are sending information to friends in the form of text," Sheedy explained.
Sheedy believes there will soon be a proliferation in Internet chat via mobile devices. "We'll see a seamless move from SMS to buddy chat services, where a number of users can share a text conference, probably within the next 18 months", predicted Sheedy.
One of the attractions of SMS is its low, fixed cost. "It's a transaction-based service, and it's very easy for a user to assess the cost versus the benefit," explained Dominic Stowbridge, director of the Motorola Applications Global Network (Magnet). "This very simple price model appeals to people who are controlling their budget, such as children and those with pre-pay contracts", he added.
The GSM Association found that, in the UK, pre-pay customers send twice as many SMS messages as contract-based users.
Once GPRS technology is available, messaging will benefit from the increased data rates. "SMS is very popular today, but people will soon demand multimedia messaging," said Strowbridge, who is confident that video postcards will be even more successful than SMS. Future mobile devices could come with a camera attachment, and a user would record several seconds of video footage which would then be sent by email.
Although SMS provides considerable revenue to network providers, some companies have lowered the price of sending a message. Sheedy believes that SMS will be used to tempt customers to a service, rather than simply treated as a cash cow.
"SMS is a channel to other services. In the future, a user could be sent the score of a football game for free, but would have to pay to see video footage of the goal on their mobile device," he speculated.
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