iMessage sends a warning to telcos

iMessage sends a warning to telcos

Summary: Just two weeks into owning a new iPhone 4S, iMessage has severely reduced the volume of SMSes I send, but will Australian telcos care?

TOPICS: Apple, iPhone, Telcos

Just two weeks into owning a new iPhone 4S, iMessage has severely reduced the volume of SMSes I send, but will Australian telcos care?


(Credit: Apple)

The cross-device iMessage service included in the release of iOS 5 is one of the more sneaky encroachments on traditional telco territory over the past few years. Its seamless integration into the regular SMS service means that more often than not, you don't notice whether you're sending a message using the traditional carrier SMS service or via the data network using iMessage. The only way to tell is that iMessages are in blue speech bubbles, while normal text messages are in green.

It's really a case of set and forget. I don't have to know in advance if someone I'm messaging has iMessage, or not, the app figures that out for me. If I'm not in an area with adequate data coverage? That's fine, it'll go by SMS instead. Prior to this, I did use alternatives such as WhatsApp or through Facebook messaging, but it just doesn't compare.

The cross-device application means I can see the message history on either my iPad or iPhone and there's no risk of losing previous messages if I ever need to get them back. In two weeks, I would estimate it's halved the amount of SMSes I would send through traditional means.

But I wonder if that is all bad news for telcos.

In the US, AT&T responded to the announcement of iMessage by removing all options on plans except either a US$20 per month for unlimited messages or 20 cents per message. The idea being that customers would either have to opt to pay the higher cost or just pay a higher price per individual text message.

According to the The Sydney Morning Herald, people on Telstra sent 9.9 billion text messages last year. Based on Telstra's customer numbers, I'd estimate that to be close to 850 messages per mobile.

It sounds like a lot to give up, but I don't predict that Aussie telcos will be worried about all its SMS revenue declining any time soon. For one simple reason: unlimited SMS plans.

A cursory glance at the plans available on all three major mobile telcos will show that a good portion of the plans come with unlimited SMSes within Australia. There are some plans that charge 25 cents per text on a cap, but pretty much all of the current iPhone plans out there come with some form of unlimited text.

All this means is that customers in Australia will be forfeiting their free SMS to move over and use their capped data plans for messages. Although I seriously doubt that the amount of data used in iMessage would chew through an entire monthly data quota on its own, it's still more worthwhile for the telcos to have their customers send messages using data that is anything but "unlimited".

But more than anything, iMessage is just a warning sign for mobile network operators. It shows, as Vodafone noted yesterday, that Apple is not the friend of mobile operators. While the Cupertino company is happy to use your network, anything after that is fair game. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to consider that Apple's next target will be voice, meaning mobile operators will find themselves in a situation where they are little more than a mobile internet provider.

Topics: Apple, iPhone, Telcos


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Why is everyone talking about iMessage causing these issues for Telco's. Blackberry BBM has been operating in the exact same way for years and yet i've never heard a single mention of it causing issues for Telco's...
    • You're right Bioxide, I forgot to mention BBM, I had meant to include that in with WhatsApp etc. I can't speak for BBM but iMessage being so seamless into the Message app in the iPhone is what makes it different. If you're not splitting up your contact list between those who have your device and those who don't, it makes it a lot easier.

      Also, as iPhone does have a good proportion of the smartphone market, it's more likely to have an impact on these things.
      Josh Taylor
      • Hi Josh, BB Messenger can come in as normal SMSes too. In fact BB has a unified inbox for mail and text messages. That is one thing I really missed when I got my iPhone. The other thing was the difference in the delay of getting the messages between BB and iPhone.

        Yes they are different creatures and targeted at different audiences. I like the simplicity of iPhone and the rock solid (ok there are slight chips now) delivery mechanism of BB Enterprise services for corporates. Hence I carry both, one for work and one for private use.

        I really like the iMessage feature and if it only syncs with BBM messages it would be even better.
        Azizi Khan
        • That's quite true. It's totally different markets. BBM is ideal for enterprise for a number of reasons, especially around security. That's something that Apple hasn't really addressed with iMessage.

          Re- syncing with BBM messages. I think that might be where WhatsApp has the advantage because it works across platforms.
          Josh Taylor
  • I don't know about other telcos, but all Telstra's plans for the new iPhone 4S include unlimited SMS. For a user, it now hardly matters whether you use SMS or iMessage because, in real terms, there is no cost.
    • As I mentioned in the second and third last paragraphs. :)
      Josh Taylor
  • what if i want to opt out?

    since getting my new iphone a week ago, i've used 168 MB of data from a 500MB plan. on my old phone, a nokia smartphone, i used less than 200 MB a month. i am rather concerned! i have downloaded two simple apps, but even when not doing so, i am using a huge amount daily. i have lots of credit left for calls and texts - can i set it so that it green-bubbles me instead of blue? and would this affect my friend on the other side of the messaging equation, who would prefer to use data?