SMS still No.1 in Asia, study finds

SMS will remain the dominant application for Asian mobile phone users despite growing interest in mobile e-mail and instant messaging, study predicts.

The outlook for text messaging in the Asia-Pacific region remains bright, according to a new study from Portio Research released Tuesday.

Despite strong challenges from other mobile messaging services--such as mobile e-mail and mobile instant messaging (mobile IM)--short messaging service (SMS) will remain the dominant force in the region, the study outlined.

Portio analyst John White told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that there will be an estimated 1.4 billion additional mobile phone users in Asia by 2012, and SMS revenue in the region will mushroom from US$16 billion in 2006, up to US$22.7 billion in 2012.

White added that regional SMS traffic within the same period will explode, fuelled by a flood of new subscribers and handset purchases in the Asia-Pacific. The number of SMS messages will spike sharply from 967.7 billion in 2006 to a staggering 2071 billion messages by 2012, he predicted.

In contrast, Portio's outlook is different for the North American market. Mobile instant messaging (MIM) is forecast to supplant SMS as the mainstream messaging service within the next four years due to the proliferation of smartphones and wireless Internet, its study showed.

White said that although there will still be more SMS users than mobile IM users, "our study forecasts the number of IM messages to grow more than SMS messages in the United States sometime after 2011".

In Asia, doubt remains over IM's ability to ever topple SMS as the mainstream messaging service. "SMS will remain the dominant peer-to-peer messaging service in Asia-Pacific, as IM will require the user to have 'always-on' services like GPRS or 3G," said Alex Chau, senior research manager at analyst house IDC, in an e-mail.

Chau noted that in developing countries like India, China and Thailand, users are still using just the basic services, such as voice and SMS.

Portio's White agreed with this assessment. "We do not see this trend in Asia…mobile IM will be popular in Asia, but not as popular across the whole region as SMS," he said.

The Portio analyst added that, while mobile e-mail--another messaging competitor--will become popular, it is unlikely to pose a major threat to SMS revenues within the next few years.

"Mobile e-mail will continue to grow very healthily in the enterprise sector," White observed. "But outside Japan, mobile e-mail will have little impact on mass consumer markets, only with the elite, high-end smartphone users."