Wireless instant messaging

Considering the huge popularity of SMS, wireless instant messaging (with added essential characteristics that give users an opportunity to manage the "message overload)," certainly looks promising.

As users are exposed to an increasing variety of mobile communication forms--mobile e-mail, voicemail, SMS, and, of course, voice--managing one's availability, or presence, becomes important.

Wireless Instant Messaging, the wireless cousin of the hugely popular online instant messaging services, such as those offered by AOL, MSN, or Yahoo!, provides presence management features and real-time wireless text messaging. Apart from presence management features, WIM also offers real-time text messages, which is different from the store and forward nature of messaging in SMS.

Mobile messaging services, including WIM, are expected to become increasingly popular with businesses. In fact, according to estimates from Ovum, a technology analyst and consulting company, by the end of 2006, more than 40 percent of operator revenues from enterprise wireless applications will come from messaging services.

WIM is not text messaging

With WIM service, users can specify different user groups and the members of that group will always be aware of another member's availability. Individuals can also specify their availability at a particular time and their preferred mode of communication, such as SMS, e-mail, or a voice call. A user's availability status can also indicate whether the user is not at all reachable or is only temporarily unavailable (e.g., busy in a meeting or gone for lunch). WIM service can be accessed with either a wireless PDA or a WAP equipped mobile phone.

WIM is a functional evolution of SMS, adding features like real-time messaging and presence management to the current store and forward nature of SMS. Services like Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), on the other hand, are a totally different kind of evolution aimed at making the messages richer in composition (audio, video, images etc.) while maintaining the basic store and forward nature of SMS.

"Always on" is the key

Mobile networks, such as GPRS, UMTS, and CDMA 1X with wireless packet-data capability, are crucial to the success and usability of WIM. These networks provide "always on" packet-data capability, meaning that the user is always connected and individual connections are not required to be set up every time data needs to be transferred. Since instant messaging applications exchange data in small bursts, packet data technologies are ideal for such applications.

What's in it for enterprises?

WIM, combined with unified messaging infrastructure plus other optional add-ons like location identification, can be a powerful communication tool indeed. The user's availability, indicated by WIM, can control the flow of e-mail, text messages, and voice calls. For example, if a user is in a meeting, he or she may indicate a preference for text messages or e-mail, rather than a voice call. Location information, if available, can make the WIM presence feature even more specific.

WIM presents several advantages to an enterprise, including productivity enhancements by virtue of WIM's presence features, collaborative working (e.g., white boarding features for a remote meeting), instant consultancy, and other potential applications like file sharing.

Customer service and sales support is another WIM application area for enterprises. As an example, IBM offers a "Sametime Everyplace" product. This solution features added security and allows audio and video messages to be exchanged in addition to voice, e-mail, and text messages. If you're considering WIM for your organization, I strongly recommend that you go through IBM's "Sametime Everyplace" product information to get a better feel for enterprise IM.

Future of WIM

Interoperability and standardization are crucial if WIM is going to be widely adopted. The Instant Messaging industry is already involved in many standardization activities that will also have direct bearing on the success of WIM. Further, Nokia, Motorola, and Ericcson have formed a consortium called Wireless Village to develop and promote standards specifically for wireless instant messaging across GSM and CDMA mobile networks, two of the most popular cellular technologies today.

WIM services are slowly beginning to appear around the globe. Sprint PCS wireless Internet services now include a wireless version of AOL Instant Messenger. UK-based mobile operator mm02 has teamed up with Openwave to provide Genie (mm02's wireless Internet portal) subscribers wireless access to MSN's instant messaging. Later, this feature will be extended to AOL and Yahoo's instant messenger systems, as well.

So, what's WIM's future like? Considering the huge popularity of SMS, I would say that a similar service, with some added essential characteristics that give users an opportunity to manage the "message overload," certainly looks promising.