|Issue:||Asia-Pacific I 2012|
|Topic:||Messenger Service – The New Rage in Emerging Markets|
|Author:||Yogesh S. Bijlani|
|Title:||Country Head – India & GM APAC|
Yogesh Bijlani is Country Head of India and General Manager APAC in Telenity. As Country Head, India and GM of Asia Pacific, Mr Bijlani focuses on the day-to-day business operations and leads the business development and sales operations activity in the region. Placing increased focus on customers, partners and alliances, Mr Bijlani is responsible for broadening Telenity’s footprint in the region across Messaging, Value Added Services (VAS), Mobile Marketing and Service Delivery Platform (SDP) solutions.
Mr Bijlani has over 18 years of business and technical expertise includes regional management, sales and marketing of telecom network solutions in India and throughout South Asia. Having a mix of strategic insight, analytical mind-set and a strong technical background, Mr Bijlani has an sharp understanding of the market needs for new services and technology deployments and has been actively involved in the convergence of entertainment and internet on the mobile.
Yogesh Bijlani holds an MBA from Indira Gandhi National Open University and Bachelor degrees in Electronics and Telecommunications from Pune University in India.
Innovation in the well-established SMS field is not easy. However, the success of BlackBerry Messenger and iPhone messaging highlights gaps between SMS and IM (Instant Messaging) that can be filled with a novel USSD-based IM. This service combines the BlackBerry style self-deleting and group chat features with the iPhone’s visualised dialogue. The service is delivered using USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), which is a commonplace, proven technology that retains the SMS reliability attribute. As this is current technology, the service is compatible with any handset and any mobile network and can complement SMS rather than replace it.
Short Message Service (SMS) has long become a part of our daily communication. A phenomenon that started as just another form of communication, i.e. an alternative to a voice call, slowly crept into our lives and has now become an integral part of the way we keep in touch with our social and professional network. Despite its massive usage and growth of new segments like P2A (Peer-to-Application) for interactivity in televoting and A2P (Application-to-Peer) for subscription services of various genres like news, stocks, entertainment, sports etc., the cornerstone of SMS continues to be P2P (Peer-to-Peer) communication.
In spite of exponential growth in message volumes in emerging markets like India, there has been limited innovation in this space. This is highlighted by the success of Blackberry in India in the consumer segment, solely driven by their successful Blackberry Messenger service. The youth consumer segment has adopted this service especially for the messaging capability that provides peer-to-peer communication without the inconvenience of deleting the messages from their inbox and the additional flexibility of group messaging and status updates. In a very short span of time, the Blackberry consumer base in India became much larger than the enterprise user base that was the traditional target segment for this product! This highlights the potential of a messenger service that is device agnostic and is generally available as a service from operators.
We should pause and ask ourselves at this point: exactly what type of a messenger service has potential with a large base of end users? It has to support the following properties: (1) Available on-the-go (2) Available on any device (3) Connecting members from different income groups (4) Charged as a flat fee and not fee per message (5) Addressed via handlers that consumers have adopted.
Running SMS through these five criteria shows why it is so popular and why its dominance has almost stalled further innovation in the mobile messaging space. Well, if SMS already satisfies those criteria, any improvement on SMS should come from improving on the deficiencies of SMS while maintaining its advantages.
Messaging is a broad term capturing different types of requirements. Sometimes, people send messages of important information that should be kept in the inbox. This is what SMS normally does. However, often, people send messages of information with time-limited value. It is like a perishable product. Such a message should be consumed quickly and disappear, as it has no future value. Indeed, chatting is a prime example of this. Messages exchanged in a chat session lose their value almost as soon as the chatting ends. Subscribers now have to clean up their inbox after the chat, almost like doing the dishes after dinner is over. This is clearly an area where SMS can be improved upon.
Another improvement to SMS has been demonstrated on the iPhone with its context keeping of the messages last exchanged in ‘I-said, you-said’ form. This visualization is commonly found in the popular instant message clients of the fixed Internet. Merely seeing an incoming message in isolation hardly underlines the chatting experience. Chatting, by definition, implies a two-way conversation via an exchange of messages. Displaying not only the last received message (as SMS does) but also visualizing a history of recent messages that are sent and received is helpful for two reasons: it emphasizes the chatting activity visually and it implicitly acknowledges what has been delivered, almost implying a delivery confirmation. Such attributes are helpful in ’tele‘-communications where users are generally deprived of the benefit of eye contact.
What does all of this add up to? We are talking about instant messaging on the mobile network using regular handsets. This has to be a service that is session based, that shows up on any mobile phone and disappears without leaving a mark on an inbox. We are talking about instant message (IM) service over USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data)!
A quick test confirms that IM over USSD does satisfy the five criteria required for success: It is available on the go, works on any device, can connect people at any income group, can be charged with a flat fee, and can be addressed via the popular mobile telephone number. To find a role next to SMS and be able to coexist with it, IM over USSD also avoids leaving undesired deposits in an inbox for “chatty stuff” like sending an address of a restaurant, which is more in the SMS ‘turf’. Finally, IM over USSD presents the chat with a session context on any handset model displaying recently exchanged messages stored on the server.
IM over USSD would be the closest experience on the mobile network to services such as BlackBerry Messenger or to IM clients on the fixed Internet, but it is open to all handsets rather than only to a certain brand of smart phones. It would not challenge the pillars of mobile messaging but it would coexist with the rest of the popular services. This is innovation in mobile messaging that is an enhancement of the subscriber experience which is meaningful for a large enough subset of all users, and has its own place among other popular forms of messaging.
There are two counter arguments to IM over USSD. One is whether end users actually like to use USSD-based services and the other is whether the network can spare the precious radio access network channels for anything but voice. The first argument clearly is a regional or country dependent matter. Some markets have not even heard of USSD and this service will not fit naturally there. On the other hand, there are many other markets in the world where USSD is quite a popular access channel for different services. Such markets would provide a more suitable environment for IM over USSD.
As for the second counter argument, the utilization of USSD channels will still be backed by a revenue generating activity. From a business point of view, operators would decide for themselves whether they want to allow any VAS traffic such as IM over USSD to take capacity away from their overall USSD bandwidth. On the radio access network side, configurations are possible that give precedence to voice control over other purposes. This is a case-by-case decision but the early indication is that most networks do have the free capacity that IM over USSD requires.
IM over USSD has further business use cases such as in the customer support space. Operators may develop business models where enterprises can reach their subscribers via interactive menus. This could lead to applications such as ticket purchasing, checking balance or payment due date on an account, ordering household necessities such as bottled water or inquiring on a forgotten password via USSD.
SMS continues to be the dominant application for mobile messaging. However, in the gap from SMS to Twitter on mobile handsets, there may be opportunities to be exploited, especially in the emerging markets where mobile data plans are still not purchased at mass levels. IM over USSD could play a complementary role to SMS in seizing these new opportunities.