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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