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SMS in Europe
Low-tech, but highly effective
by Tom Hume

Short Message Service (SMS) has proven to be an unexpected success for mobile telecom operators. Practically ubiquitous on European handsets, at its simplest, it allows the sending of short (up to 160 character) text messages, which are typically received within 5 to 30 seconds of being sent - hardly exciting stuff when you compare it to the level of interactivity that, say, the Web offers.

First deployed by Vodafone in the early 1990s, SMS was originally conceived as a tool for the mythical "road warrior." It enabled salespeople or field engineers to cheaply and easily keep in touch with headquarters, by using the technology as a bearer for e-mail notifications, purchasing applications, and so forth. Despite a few early attempts to mobilize workforces using SMS, it was never a massive success. This changed in the late 1990s when it was rediscovered by teenagers, who enthusiastically adopted the clunky messaging technology for their own purposes - principally, chatting.

Ideal for Two-Way MesSaging
Despite its low-tech facade, SMS brings a number of opportunities for companies wanting to conduct two-way dialogues with the general public. As we've already noted, it's ubiquitous - anyone with a mobile phone in Europe has SMS (although many may not realize it). With a couple of exceptions, it's rarely been promoted by the operators and isn't the most user-friendly of applications, which makes it a surprisingly effective channel, with 15 billion SMS messages being sent across Europe each month.

For simple applications, SMS is absolutely ideal. The personal nature of phones (increasingly marketed as lifestyle accessories, rather than communication aids) makes SMS a direct medium - send me a message and I'll receive it now (compared to e-mail, where I won't read your message until I next check my mail).

This intrusiveness, while being valuable for some applications (e.g., alerting purchasers of airline tickets should their flight be delayed), should be borne in mind when considering SMS as a channel: there's a great deal of potential for annoying text messages. Fortunately, the mobile operators are extremely aware of this issue and, anxious to defend what's become a significant stream of revenue for them, are clamping down on this kind of misuse.

Coherent Billing Models
SMS is a well-understood technology; it's been deployed for nearly 10 years now, so operators have had time to establish coherent billing models and understand the requirements for reliability. This, combined with the small size of individual messages (which therefore makes good use of the limited wireless bandwidth available to mobile operators), makes SMS an extremely robust transport mechanism.

Recent developments on the billing side in the UK include Vodafone's offer of "reverse charge SMS," where the delivery of a single message to a handset can result in a small charge being added to the bill of a subscriber. This effectively offers (in a roundabout fashion) a means for Vodafone's partners to offer microbilling - a significant step forward for European networks that brings them nearer to the commercial opportunities that i-mode has shown to be feasible.

The ubiquity and low cost of SMS have led to some innovative applications. For example, SCAN ( offers a "comparison shopping" service conducted entirely over SMS. Customers send a message detailing what they're after (e.g., "Holy Bible Book") to SCAN, which searches for the lowest price and reports back with a quote.

All the customer has to do is respond with the word "buy" to confirm the purchase and delivery of the item - making the purchase exceptionally easy. Obviously there's also a one-time process of setting up an account, but SCAN allows customers to do this on their Web site or have company representatives call them - and can identify customers easily from their mobile numbers.

Text Messaging Beats Cards
Commerce over SMS is otherwise quite rare (and SCAN sidesteps credit card issues by taking no payment information over SMS); typical SMS applications are promotional- or advertising-led. So, for instance, when the pop band VengaBoys released a recent single ("Cheekah Bow Bow"), it was made available as a ring-tone before being put out on CD. It's not known how popular this promotion was with commuters, but fans of the band were enthusiastic about the idea.

However, it was during this year's Valentine's Day celebrations that SMS's coming of age was clear, with a number of different companies (such as the ISP LineOne) providing applications themed around the day. The result was that more text messages were sent than physical cards - a sobering statistic for the post office.

So what does the future hold? A number of extensions to the basic specification have been proposed by handset manufacturers, notably Nokia's "smart messaging" extensions, that allow the sending of simple graphics and ringtones. How keen their competitors are to implement Nokia's technologies remains to be seen, and it should be remembered that any divergence from the original, limited standards compromises the ubiquity that is the core strength of SMS.

Along similar lines, while basic applications are an ideal fit, anything involving more complex interactivity may be better implemented using the likes of WAP or i-mode, particularly as they become standard handset features and extend their reach.

The Future Is Now
Opportunities for SMS are therefore very much in the present. Right now, it offers an excellent wide-reaching channel to customers, with strong billing potential in the near future. Longer term, expect the push facilities of WAP 1.2 and beyond (which are effectively specialized SMS messages) to supersede it, though there's little harm in running newer WAP services alongside SMS, and allowing customers to migrate at their own speed.

Tom Hume is cofounder and director of Future Platforms, a UK company focused on developing Internet services for consumer devices.

Mobile Networks Feel the Pinch
WAP growth is slow,
but "texting" has gone crazy
by Simon Luttrel

I was lucky enough to attend the recent 3GSM conference and exhibition, which is held every year in sunny Cannes on the French Riviera. This is more than just a French affair, with companies and attendees from around the world eager to display their latest offerings. Perhaps of greatest interest were the mobile devices designed for the forthcoming 3G networks, and those for the new GPRS 2.5G networks.

Many of the models shown were concept devices (which tends to mean "if we had pots of money this is what we would do with it"). But mobile networks are feeling the pinch and this was certainly demonstrated by the lack of real devices exhibited.

I took a look at the latest PDA-phones from the French manufacturer Sagem. Similar in size and appearance to a PalmPilot or Handspring Visor, these color-screen devices boasted an integrated GSM phone, with GPRS support. The usual complement of PDA applications, such as e-mail, address book, calendar, and WAP browser were also incorporated. It seemed like a  great device, but I wonder how long it will be before such a device can be put to good use in France. Like many European mobile networks, GPRS rollout has been frustratingly slow.

WAP Gets a Bad Rap
The situation in France has been exacerbated by the poor performance of the mobile networks in providing reliable circuit-switched connections for existing WAP devices. One reason for the slow take-up of WAP in France is that it's so difficult to get (and stay) connected to your favorite site! WAP has been criticized in the European press recently, primarily for its poor site content and limitations of the mobile devices themselves. Both issues have generally been solved, but unless a reliable connection is assured, the rapid progress of the wireless Internet is very much in doubt.

While WAP growth in France may be slow, that's certainly not the case for SMS text messaging. "Texting" your pals has gone crazy in Europe, with teenagers the main culprits for the huge growth in mobile-to-mobile messaging. The cost of sending a text message tends not to vary, even if it's destined for a mobile network in another country. This has resulted in a number of international chat and messaging services for the text-mad masses.

But there's a problem in France. While most European mobile networks are happy to allow cross-border messaging, sending a text message from outside France to a French mobile phone is more difficult than breaking into Fort Knox! It often comes bouncing straight back to you (presumably with "NON!" appended to your message).

Simon Luttrel is CTO of Trivanti

Late wake-up for a giant
by Eric Sendra

With nearly 20 million people owning mobile phones, and the biggest increase in 1999 in Europe (about 20% penetration), there's no doubt the French love GSM. However, it took a long time to reach this point.

Four years ago, while England was watching its GSM networks grow and thrive, most French would have told you that GSM was the latest Renault fuel injection system or a new microwave manufacturer. This was worrisome (to say the least), considering that operators were already there, ready to provide their services, but struggling to sell them. Only one thing was missing - people's acceptance of mobile technologies.

Answering the Fashion Call
It was another trend that finally made the French wake up: cell phones appeared in Parisian fashion magazines! Mobile phones quickly became the ultimate trendy accessory.

Here's an example. Paris-Nice train, six people sitting in a cabin, one of them nearly shouting on his latest handset. At some point, one starts to feel sick and faints, everybody starts to panic except the caller himself who turns silent. Somebody then turns to the guy and says, "Can't you see what's going on, quick, use your mobile and call somebody, do something...." The guy, now turning pale, replies, "Sorry, it's a fake one!"

It might have been just a trend, but the market started to move at this time, and more and more people owned mobiles. Everything was in place for GSM to take off.

At this point, another facet of French behavior loomed up: polemic sarcasm. GSM pros and cons were starting to appear, turning the emergence of mobile phones into a big talk show-type forum. Believe it or not, at this point, I was "Mobileskeptic," not toward technology, but toward this very trend we're talking about. Mobiles were still seen as something reserved for a kind of young wealthy elite or "à la mode" people. Many used their mobiles just to show off.

However, debate is typical in France and as usual, the people introducing the change finally managed to win. Operators did their part by supplying useful marketing research, lowering prices, appealing to the public at large, and launching massive advertising campaigns before gift-giving holidays.

All the ingredients were there for success: 1999 was a huge year for the French GSM market, with millions of new subscribers, retailers opening everywhere...hysterical, so French.

I think two factors have really determined this boom. The first was the attraction that young people showed for mobile telephony. The second was how networks changed the way they sell their services. GSM in France is still much more expensive than in England, for example, but it doesn't really matter. Eventually mobile phones became mass-produced items, and operators and manufacturers fulfilled their aim. The best example of this U-turn is that I, too, now have a mobile phone!

WAP - The Next Hurdle
Further troubles or deception are not over though. Let's take WAP, for example. It's been massively campaigned for by operators, and all kinds of WAP handsets are available butŠno, French people are not ready yet; "Hey, please leave us some time to enjoy our newly purchased mobile phones. When we start looking for something new, we may come to the WAPŠnever too late." Not to worry!

Nationalistic Habits
Another feature of the French market is the mobile phones themselves. First, French people usually like to buy French phones. Sagem and Alcatel are obviously happy with that as France can then constitute a kind of R&D lab and develop their products before spreading them to the rest of the world.

Second, it seems the English, for example (again!), are keen on changing their mobiles often, whereas the French would rather use their mobiles until they're out-of-date or broken. Fidelity or scared to learn how to use a brand new handset?

The Future Is Here...Finally
Mobile phones are now widely accepted in France, starting with the youngest generation, and reaching all layers of the society. This process took longer here, however, and has been more difficult than in other countries that are more future-minded and open to new technologies. But who cares about the pace as long as the goal is achieved?

Eric Sendra is a European account manager at Wireless Data Services.

Benefits of a multi-access technology
by Cedric Nicolas

Ubicco, a French wireless ASP and multi-access service provider, has developed a multi-access service based on its MoViE technology, for 365 France (a subsidiary of 365 Corp., a UK digital media and communications company). MoViE is the first European multi-access platform to support i-mode.

The service was set up in 15 days for Euro 2000 and Tour de France, and enabled Football365 and Velo365 Web site users to subscribe and personalize a WAP service and SMS Alert service to obtain plays, scores, rankings, and sports news in real time on their mobile phones. The service has been a big success, with more than 100,000 SMS sent over two weeks.

The multi-access aspect of the service is important: the Web site allows subscribing and configuring the service for later mobility usage.

The 365 Service has been developed by connecting the MoViE platform described below to the 365 publishing system (GPS) through XML. The two platforms are hosted in two different French cities (Montpellier for GPS and Paris for Ubicco's MoViE) and were connected through the Internet.

The 365 journalists were able to add, through their usual Web tool, some specific texts targeted at small devices. Indeed, it's particularly important to rewrite the headlines and texts in order to provide good readability on the small devices. The GPS platform was able to generate new input forms for journalists to add that important functionality.

MoViE - A Neutral Solution
The MoViE platform allows content providers, service providers, and corporations to maximize their audiences, in keeping with the growing diversity of Internet terminals. In fact, this platform enables any organization to swiftly distribute Internet, intranet, extranet, or database contents through multiple terminals - Personal Assistants (such as PalmPilot, Pocket PC or Psion), WAP phones, Web phones, interactive TV, Web terminals, and PCs - without having to worry about differences in user interfaces, protocols, and necessary technologies, and their evolution.

The originality and the value offer of MoViE is to provide end users with wireless and wire-line data services, regardless of the source of information or carrier or mobile/fixed terminal used.

It's operator-neutral, and device-neutral. This nondiscriminatory policy is particularly valuable to clients who do not rely on a sole mobile operator and/or a sole terminal provider.

Cedric Nicolas is COO of Ubicco.

The SelfMobile company is preparing for the imminent arrival of GPRS in France by issuing an appeal for the references of audio and visual contents for mobile phones. With its declared speeds of 30 and 50 kbps, GPRS will allow users to view video sequences, listen to sound sequences and follow sporting events "live."

SelfMobile has set up a portal based on a technical platform for the dynamic management and broadcasting of content, but that content is still rare. This is why content creators and other suppliers of audio and visual services are invited to post their references, free of charge, on the SelfMobile portal.


Numerous countries worldwide are currently in the process of awarding 3rd generation UMTS licenses. Some countries (the United Kingdom, Finland, Germany, Spain, etc.) have already chosen their 3G operators and a flurry of further awards are being made at the end of the year. The auctions are taking place in Italy in October, in Austria and Switzerland in November, and in Belgium in December. The countries that have preferred competitive tendering (the awarding of licenses on submission of a tender, on the basis of technical and economic criteria) are also caught up in the current. We will know who the license holders are in Norway and Sweden in November, in Portugal and Poland before the end of the year, and in Ireland and France before mid 2001. The United States is among the "stragglers" in the field; they want to hold the first auctions in September 2002 !


About Tom Dibble
Tom Dibble , a wireless entrepreneur, is a cofounder of
Global Wireless Forum, a forum dedicated to dealing with commercial, strategic,
technical issues on the evaluation of the wireless age in Europe and
the U.S.

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