Will mobile email kill the SMS business?


MOBILE | Phone companies are making millions with SMS. Ahmad Humeid wonders how long they will be able to milk that business.
Think about the differences between email and sms. Email is free, SMS is not. Email can be as long as you want, SMS messages are only 160 letters short. But while SMS is truly a mobile form of communication, email is still largely exchanged using a PC.

But that’s changing in a big way. Take the US based Blackberry service for example. Many business people call it ‘Crack’-berry because it is as addictive as a drug! SMS has never really taken off in the US, but everyone there seems to be carrying a Blackberry device, which enables people to send and receive emails on the go. More recently, the Blackberry devices also acquired phone functionality. The addiction is spreading and is rumored to be reaching Jordan soon, with the help of one of the Kingdom’s mobile providers.

But let’s go back to SMS for a second. When the service was invented by British engineers as a communication method for mobile networks’ maintenance staff they probably never guessed that their little, 160-character short messages will end up creating a huge industry. In Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, mobile companies are smiling as they see the money rolling in from SMS, as they figured out a business model that charges millions of people little amounts that end up accumulating into millions of dollars in profits. The four or five piasters/cents (or more in some countries) we pay when sending an SMS do not ‘hurt’ a lot. We don’t feel we’re spending much. But when comparing the cost of SMS with the virtually cost-free email service, SMS does seem expensive. I had a young coworker who once racked up JD 90 in SMS charges in one month!

But SMSs dominance might be under a real threat from the prospects of email going mobile on a large scale. Today, you can already check you email from any GPRS equipped mobile. Incidentally, GPRS, the always-on data connectivity technology for mobiles, is the technology that underlies the Blackberry service.

And this is where things get interesting. Sending or receiving 1 kilobyte of information over GPRS cost only 1 fils in Jordan. Think about it: GPRS: 1 fils for 1000 letters. SMS: 40 fils per 160 characters. Do the math and you will find that sending data in an SMS message costs 250 times more than sending the same data using GPRS! And when you remember that GPRS enables mobile mail you understand why mobile email (as on the Blackberry) threatens the lucrative SMS gold-mine.

But wait. Doesn’t SMS still have an advantage over ‘checking your mail’ on your mobile? An SMS simply arrives and makes a beep alerting you to it’s arrival, whereas mail need to be ‘checked’. But that advantage is also under attack. The Blackberry service is considered a push-email service,

which means that mail sent to you arrives almost on the spot too with no need for checking your mailbox.
Mobile email is hot. The Blackberry phenomenon is spreading. Other companies are noticing. Just look at the Nokia E61 for example, which Fastlink is heavily promoting. The full keyboard and the form factor of this phone clearly indicate that Nokia wants to have something in its arsenal to counter the Blackberry attack. And it’s not just Nokia: Sony Ericsson, Palm, iMate are all positioning some of their devices as Blackberry killers. Expect some hot battles ahead.

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6 Responses to “Will mobile email kill the SMS business?”

  1. Haitham Issam Says:

    I’d wish I could get rid of SMS for mail! I tried the blackberry here in the UAE, and it was really great! Online 24/7, mail, phone, but still I think the device is hediously uncomfortable! They should build it with a touchable display to make it better!

  2. MobileMan Says:

    Good thing you switched gears here …

    I don’t think the Blackberry success will not be repeated in Europe or the middle-east for a very simple reason: Before Blackberry ever come to light in the US Businesses relied heavily on the message based pager device. So, Blackberry came out with this device not only to provide email capability, but also provide alternative to these communication devices. This is totally different in the Middle East and Europe.

    Right Etisalat in the UAE are offering the blackberry service. If it takes off there, then for sure it will take off elsewhere in the Middle East. I myself have Windows Mobile 5.0 device with direct push service, which works as good as BlackBerry.

  3. MobileMan Says:

    I don’t think the Blackberry success will be repeated

  4. mala2e6 Says:

    fastlink charges 3 piasters for local sms,6 for international,and i hearrd that 10 piasters are charged for usa..mseebeh..

    sms is a simple way to communicate,almost everyone can write sms(i am talking jordan here) but as for emails and gprs,well sir most of jordanians don’t really know what gprs is..so i think that it will take us a while to get to the blackberry technology.

  5. Firas Says:

    VodaPhone Egypt is already offering blackberries handsets and service.

    Though you have to consider this, many in the US are obliged to have one as a mean to communitcate with their bosses and get things done on the road. Meanwhile the working force in Jordan that would ever think of using such thing is too little,so this won’t provide a fertile ground for its growth, though you never know!
    I mean they’ll soon enough offer cabs on demand service in Jordan (this is cabbies word :D ) so it might be useful, especially that they will start using street numbers and civics.

    What is most annoying that these same companies like Fastlink who should be promoting such gadgets would always tell you: please come to our showroom and we’ll help you there!And you’ll be what’s the use of calling them, or getting information online! Maybe we are too friendly and we like to get things done in human contact.

    “Allo,Allo Abu Amer, Hatharteli el warag taba3 el meeting?
    Walak anu meeting?
    Tayeb hayni jay la3endak, abu 5 dagayeg , 3ashra, nos see3a bakoon 3endak….wella agoolak khaleeha 3al 3asreyaat

  6. Mohammad Says:

    I’m taking my blackberry with me to Jordan for the holidays. Has anyone tried it there? I’m probably going to be charged an arm and a leg for the service. As for “direct push” being just as good as blackberry…I beg to differ :p please man, you’re talking about WINDOWS MOBILE versus BLACKBERRY OS. BB OS wins hands down. How many times have you had to restart your device today? :p

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