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But what did Ballmer fail to announce at 3GSM? Answer: IM cooperation

by Guy J Kewney | posted on 14 February 2006


It was billed by all the mainstream media as "Microsoft's Ballmer calls for greater cooperation between tech cos, telcos..." and it turned out to be a pretty naked hype-pitch for Microsoft Windows Media, and Microsoft standards generally. But what about the GSMA's call, yesterday, for cooperation amongst Instant Messaging suppliers?

It was conspicuously missing from the Microsoft CEO's "keynote" speech to the 3GSM Congress today, certainly; why?

"The short answer," said a GSMA spokesman, "is that yesterday's announcement was an initiative by the mobile operators. The idea is to make instant messaging as popular and ubiquitous amongst mobile users as texting is."

The actual involvement of IM providers, said the GSMA, is yet to come. "Naturally, we've consulted with them all, Yahoo, MSN, and the rest, but this is an operator initiative."

In fact, that makes it sound as if the GSMA has done a lot more consulting than it really has. Inside sources revealed that the only IM provider to have participated in any depth, in the consulting process which was initiated by eight networks, was Microsoft MSN.

So does this mean that Ballmer can announce MSN as the model of the GSMA IM initiative? If so, why didn't he?

The networks were listed - China Mobile, Orange, Telefonica, TeliaSonera, TIM, T-Mobile, Turkcell and Vodafone, and the GSM operators in India - Aircel, Bharti, BSNL, Hutchison Essar, Idea, MTNL and Spice.

"All are gearing up to rollout IM services that adhere to the core GSM principles of ease-of-use, security, reliability, interoperability and initiating party pays," said the GSMA yesterday.

But at the moment, the association conceded, there is no consensus about what the IM players will actually want to do.

"We can't see any reason to suspect that the IM providers won't want to work together on this," said the GSMA spokesman, "but at this point, there is no total alignment on their part."

But in fact, there are many good reasons to regard this as ambitious, because AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! have waged all-out war on anybody who ever tried to unify their user bases.

"We think that none of the IM providers has sufficient installed base on mobile phones," said the GSMA official. "We think they will want to move into mobile and will see this as the way to go."

Comment: The GSMA is in somewhat of a hole, here, because several of the leading IM clients are actually rivals to mobile carriers using GSM and 3G. Google's Google Talk is an IM, but it's also a VoIP service. So is Skype; so is MSN Messenger, so is Yahoo! Messenger. In a fully-converged packet-switched wireless network, the mobile operators will be reduced to bit-carriers on a broadband model - increasingly, flat fee data. If voice goes off the phone bill and over to the data bill, then carriers suddenly lose their ability to charge competitively for voice or data; they become tied to a flat rate.

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