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Should iMessage be making telcos nervous?

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October 14, 2011

iMessage makes it easy and cheap to send text messages between iOS 5 devices

iMessage makes it easy and cheap to send text messages between iOS 5 devices

With around two trillion text messages sent in America alone every year, SMS text messaging is the most widely used data application in the world and the number two use of mobile phones - the first being to check the time. It's also a cash cow for telecommunications companies with the average charge worldwide of around US$0.10 per message for data that essentially costs the telco nothing to transmit because it is sent on the control channel - a small part of radio bandwidth that is used to send information between the tower and phone about call setups. Apple's iOS 5 update - if you can get it installed - sees the addition of a new iMessage app that could have telcos nervous as it allows text messages to be sent for next to nothing.

iMessage works in much the same way as the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) application that allows BlackBerry users to send secure messages of unlimited length, along with photos and videos, amongst themselves over an internet connection. Like BBM, iMessage also supports delivery and read receipts, group chats and will only work on like devices - iPhones, iPads and iPod touch - over either a Wi-Fi network or 3G using your phone's data plan.

While BBM was one of the major selling points for BlackBerry devices, Research In Motion (RIM) failed to capitalize on its popularity by expanding into cross platform communication capability early on. This means users of BBM and iMessage have to resort to a standard SMS when messaging someone not using a like device. So why does iMessage potentially pose more of a threat to a telco's bottom line than third party messaging apps or BBM?

The answer is the popularity of the iPhone - which shows no sign of abating and sat at 19 percent worldwide market share in Q2 2011, overtaking the BlackBerry - and the seamless nature with which iMessage is integrated into iOS 5.

Upon upgrading to iOS 5 (which took me a couple of attempts before success was achieved), iMessage was turned on by default in Settings/Messages. This means that any SMS sent to another iOS 5 device with iMessage enabled will be sent over Wi-Fi or 3G for much less than the cost of a standard SMS.

There's no need to download a third party app and worry about whether the receiver also has that app installed and running when you attempt to send the SMS because the system will revert back to a standard SMS if there's no iMessage compatibility on the receiving device. In other words, the user doesn't have to change the way they send text messages to use iMessage and save on SMS costs. In fact, in our brief tests we found that texts sent via iMessage arrived faster than a regular SMS - one second as opposed to two.

While we can see Apple bringing iMessage support to the desktop with an app for OS X Lion, it's less easy to predict whether it would allow cross platform compatibility with other mobile operating systems, such as Android, which claimed 43 percent worldwide market share in Q2 2011.

While the telcos are probably already concerned about iMessage even though Apple devices account for only around five percent of total text message sent in the U.S., they're likely to be even more concerned to hear that Samsung and Google are reportedly working on a similar service for Android phones, while Microsoft is also believed to be developing its own instant messaging system for Windows Phone. Guess that's what happens when you charge what has been calculated as a 4,090 percent markup for a service.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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7 Comments

Whatsapp does this and more accross platforms for more than 2 years.

There's nothing new in the 4S that's not already available out there.

Gore
14th October, 2011 @ 03:25 am PDT

You can do this with Google Talk or Google Voice or about 100 other apps out there. Google Voice in particular is a great solution because it's independent of your phone. You can send and receive text messages though email with Google Voice. It also integrates into Android such that you can use it as a complete replacement for a txting plan provided you give out your GV phone number instead.

Stradric
14th October, 2011 @ 05:34 am PDT

The previous commenters haven't got the point, of course you've been technically able to do this sort of thing for ages, but none of them have ever taken off because of the difficulty in getting all your friends to use a special app.

I love the sound of iMessage, basically I'll be able to send an SMS just like usual, but if it's going to a friends iphone it'll be nigh on free! That's just awesome.

I really do hope google makes the android version compatible, then I'll be able to send em free to gf's lg too!

Andrew Leech
14th October, 2011 @ 05:29 pm PDT

Most carriers (at least in the US) have unlimited messaging plans, which many smartphone users already use, so i would say there isn't much of a threat.

ben min
14th October, 2011 @ 08:55 pm PDT

When a phone has the ability to send free texts, that's a huge incentive for conscientious buyers to get it. Well played, Apple. Well played.

Joel Detrow
14th October, 2011 @ 09:08 pm PDT

In NZ we get essentially raped for telecommunications. We have 2 big players, Telcom and Vodafone. Hence the price gouging.

We pay 20cents NZ for each cross network message unless they lock you into a "plan".

We pay about 1$ per megabyte of data.

We pay upto 50cents per minute for mobile phone calls. This is why we are a nation of "texters" as it is greatly cheaper to text than call (usually about $12 for 2500 texts). So this would be a "killer app" In NZ that we would happily pay a 1off purchase for. Wink wink to any app developers out there that want to make some money!

cm
16th October, 2011 @ 02:01 pm PDT

Andrew Leech - actually the posters are just pointing out, that Apple reinvents the wheel and yet it manages to make it incompatible with other solutions. Why on earth do they need to create a new protocol? Why not use XMPP aka jabber (like in iChat), just like google does? It's free, open and supported on many platforms. And they can create own servers which can provide additional functions compared to other jabber servers. Actually with jabber you are free to choose from the multitude of clients which support it. But no.. Everyone who doesn't own an apple product should install a separate client (event better - buy it) just to be able to communicate via iMessage? Really?

Seamon
17th October, 2011 @ 08:02 am PDT
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