Singapore gets flat-rate mobile IM

StarHub launches a service to tap user demand for mobile IM, which Gartner says is another application to cross over from the "fixed-line Internet".
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Mobile IM (instant messaging) is the latest application local carrier, StarHub, hopes will "cross over" successfully from the PC to the phone.

Over the weekend, StarHub launched a mobile IM service it calls Chat Anywhere, which connects users to their Yahoo and Windows Live Messenger accounts on their mobile phones.

The service is billed a monthly S$5.35 (US$3.91) for unlimited use.

Foong King Yew, Gartner communications research director told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview this is another application in a trend toward the mobile Internet moving "in the direction of fixed-line Internet".

"Many Web 2.0 applications and features such as instant messaging, file sharing and social networking are being ported over to the mobile Internet," said Foong, adding that these are facilitated by factors such as more powerful devices and faster connections.

According to StarHub head of mobile services, Anil Nihalani, the local carrier decided to launch the service after monitoring users' usage of IM and following customer requests. "We believe it is timely now to make available this service to customers," Nihalani said.

StarHub ran an internal trial before launching the service, he said, adding that the flat fee is intended to prevent users from unknowingly running a high bill on existing mobile data plans from using the IM service.

StarHub said a typical mobile IM user is expected to use up to 10 megabytes of data a month.

Gartner's Foong said: "Mobile IM should be treated as one of many possible data applications [of] unlimited mobile data plans. It is in the carrier's interest to encourage more mobile data usage.

"Also, we do not believe separate charging will be effective as the mobile Internet is increasingly open and carriers will not be able to control what consumers do over this medium," Foong added.

Mobile IM may help carriers boost revenues in the region's developed markets, where subscriber numbers are saturated.

Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at Gartner, said in a statement late last year that carriers should encourage social applications such as mobile IM and e-mail, and work with popular established social networking sites to drive revenues.

But some analysts say that mobile IM's popularity will not eclipse that of SMS.

Portio analyst John White said last year: "Mobile IM will be popular in Asia, but not as popular across the whole region as SMS."

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