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The Opportunity of Mobile IM

From social groups to networking sites, from family units to business groups, people are using technology more than ever to communicate and share. More to the point, people want to be able to access and manage their communities from one central place, and communicate "whenever and wherever."


Allen Scott

By Allen Scott

Instant messaging (IM) has become the communications vehicle of choice for today's generation, and the success of mobile e-mail and SMS is proof of people's insatiable appetite for mobile messaging. Mobile instant messaging (MIM) promises to play a significant role in tomorrow's wireless world and is quickly becoming the third core service for operators alongside voice and text.

As the next major growth opportunity for mobile operators, Mobile IM is a highly flexible service offering that can open up new revenue opportunities. Mobile operators have a unique opportunity to fully leverage their position in the mobile ecosystem with MIM via their established SMS subscriber bases – and, crucially, their access to and management of a user's presence information.

To date, many mobile operators have largely ceded the MIM opportunity to ISP IM providers. While this has proved successful with a number of operators, others are building "own-branded" MIM capabilities and offerings. The first step: understanding what drives MIM customers.

Creating a rich and compelling customer experience should be the starting point for new product development, so mobile operators should consider their MIM strategies first from the customer viewpoint. Key MIM target user groups include:

Teenagers – Immediate mobile connectivity with friends is key, along with the ability to express individual personalities and being able to include a group of people within one messaging conversation. This means that MIM must be both "mobile-mobile" and "mobile-fixed," with the ability to include personal expression identifiers such as emoticons. In addition, MIM aimed at teens should include tariffing that incorporates unlimited or very high bundles of messages, given teenagers' heavy use of messaging and the need to stay within spending limits that are often set by parents.

University Students – University students live in two environments: a university environment and a home environment. Because students typically explore different study and career fields, the support of mobile communities is particularly important as they seek to exchange information and ideas with like-minded people.

Young Professionals – Young professionals are typically independent in the world, and must manage both their professional and personal lives. Keeping in contact with friends during limited free time and while on the move is important, as is the ability to meet new friends and date. In addition, young professionals are interested in using technology in the workplace, making this group ideal for MIM adoption in the enterprise.

Dynamic Parents – Parents want to stay in touch with their children, friends, family, and co-workers – and MIM is an ideal fit. It is also possible that many parents will be pushed by their children to adopt MIM services as the preferred way to communicate, since the parents will become more aware of when their children are online and available to message.

Heavy SMS Users – Heavy SMS users have several key needs when it comes to MIM. Not only do they want to maintain the ease of use associated with SMS and to keep in contact with people still using SMS, but they also need an easily understood tariffing system for heavy MIM usage. MIM adds the ability to message "one to many" and also offers presence, or the awareness of someone's availability, which is a messaging feature that SMS sorely lacks.

ISP IM Users – Fixed ISP IM (chat) users want to be able to access and use the same existing contacts, contact groups, and availability status whether they are using their mobile devices or their PCs. They want to see a similar ability to customize their MIM with emoticons, backgrounds and avatars. Due to the flat-rate access nature of the Internet, this group in particular will likely be most receptive to flat-rate usage tariff packages.

Social Networking and Dating Communities – Dating services were among the first social networking services to incorporate IM functions. It's important that users of these services can establish alternate MIM identities for specific use with mobilized data services so as to maintain privacy. In addition, this group will want to be able to create more detailed personalized MIM profiles that convey additional personal information depending on the community that they are in at that time.

Gadget Adopters – Early adopters of the latest mobile devices want to see MIM clients already embedded on their devices; at the very least, they want to be able to easily download MIM clients to their new devices. This group tends to change devices frequently, and it will be especially important to allow easy transfer of MIM contact lists, group lists and personal profile information from current devices to new devices.

As mobile operators look to MIM as the next major messaging vehicle and revenue growth opportunity, they should consider "own-branded" MIM capabilities and offerings. Understanding what key MIM target groups want and need is crucial to providing a valuable service and, in return, engendering adoption and loyalty.

Source:  The Opportunity of Mobile IM,
By Allen Scott, WirelessWeek - April 07, 2008
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