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What will this year portend for mobile messaging?

By Jay Seaton

Pioneering technologist Alan Kay once said that ?the best way to predict the future is to invent it.? Reflecting on another year gone by, this comment rings especially true.

For mobile, 2009 marked a year of outstanding innovation and growth; communication in 140 characters became all the rage as Twitter reached mainstream consciousness; Apple delivered its one billionth application download from the App Store; Orange and T-Mobile announced plans to merge their British business to become the Britain?s largest network provider, and O2 overtook BT in British revenues.

After so much development in 2009, where will this year take us? Here are my Top 10 predictions for the coming year.

1. Revenues rising, profit margins tightening
Driven in no small part by the iPhone and other smartphone devices, increasingly available mobile bandwidth and higher network speeds, mobile data services will break the $200 billion mark in 2010.

But from a wireless carrier perspective, the continuation of this model is not a sustainable one. As more users subscribe to unlimited data price plans, traffic on downloads is rising at a rate that carrier revenue cannot keep pace with.

The challenge for carriers in the coming months will be to begin to prepare customers to pay premiums for high usage or optimal quality of service.

2. SMS revenues will cross $100 billion in revenue
The humble SMS, one of the original mobile communication tools, remains key to facilitating today?s enhanced, feature-rich mobile services, which will in turn drive mobile data revenues.

According to analysts, SMS revenues will continue to grow rapidly, breaking the $100 billion-mark next year.

3. Location-based services will find a home
Informa predicts that location-based services (LBS) will surpass $2 billion in revenue in 2010, with growth anticipated to reach $6.5 billion by 2013.

The industry is realizing that location alone is not a revenue-generating service in its own right ? but is recognizing that it can provide valuable enhancements to existing services that will greatly stimulate services such as mobile search, mobile advertising and social networking, making these services more relevant, actionable and personal.

As an increasing number of mobile devices such as smartphones offer built-in GPS, and because carriers can now expose location APIs even for non-GPS phones, the addressable market for LBS will continue to greatly increase.

4. Mobile payments will find their way into developed markets
Until now mobile payment services have been successful predominantly in countries where mobile penetration outstrips traditional banking services.

In developed markets, the challenge had been about building consumer trust. Now, issues such as security, regulation and quality of service are dominating peoples? minds.

Once these issues are effectively addressed ? using SMS as the most reliable and ubiquitous foundation ? and consumer trust is won, the ease of use of mobile financial services will drive its uptake.

Informa expects that this market will grow from $400 million in 2009 to $5.9 billion in 2013.

5. Mobile social networking will come of age
In 2010, carriers and social networking sites will find a way to jointly monetize mobile social networking.

Today, implementations of mobile social networking are fragmented, mostly using browsers and dedicated handset applications.

However, this only addresses a subset of the smartphone market, as the only viable and accessible user experience they present is on the iPhone.

Until now, the flood of unbillable Mobile Terminated messages from social networks were an issue for using SMS and MMS to address the mass market. But now enhancements such as MT charging, antispam, location, ad insertion and hash-tagging will enable the carrier to engage in new business models for two-way social networking traffic.

6. Android-iPhone fight will increase in intensity
We will see more Android-based phones entering the market this year, so it will be interesting to see if the semi-monopolistic iPhone hype will be reduced to normal proportions as the open model for Android provides a good alternative to the relatively closed iPhone.

Will Android-based phones also generate higher data average revenue per user than average phones? Given the possible greater penetration of Android phones, this could give an enormous boost to data revenues.

7. Carrier app stores versus handset app stores: raising the stakes
As handset vendors such as Apple, BlackBerry and Nokia are tightening their bond with end users, carriers including Vodafone, Orange, AT&T and China Mobile have announced comparable app stores, with a mix of handset applications, widgets and networked applications based on Network APIs.

While handset-based app stores are great from a user experience point of view as they are designed specifically for the handset, they are limited to subscribers who own Apple, BlackBerry or Nokia smartphones ? currently less than 10 per cent of the market.

Carrier app stores have the ability to reach the mass market and can be enhanced with a range of capabilities including messaging, security, location, charging and user profiling. The stakes will only get higher this year as the battle rages on.

8. Proliferation of mobile security issues will impede the uptake of new services
According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 65 percent of mobile users are concerned about safety, with 44 percent of users having reportedly been victims of mobile spam.

The increased opening of networks and handsets release myriad new threats, will lead to increased customer care, higher infrastructure costs and more churn and brand damage. It will also hinder the uptake of services such as mobile financial services and mobile advertising.

For example, according to Harris, more than 70 percent of users would be prevented from using mobile financial services.

Already in recent weeks we have witnessed the emergence of the first iPhone worm proving that no technology or service is immune from cybercriminals.

The industry must work together to tackle security threats in order to enable the continued evolution of enriched features and services.

9. RCS and IMS: wait and see, but be prepared
Carriers, infrastructure vendors and messaging vendors are joining forces to push technologies such as IMS (IP Multimedia Systems) and RCS (Rich Content Suites) to introduce sticky, converged communications services to fend off ?over-the-top? providers including Skype, Facebook and Google.

However, the cards have not been dealt yet on whether or not this is the Holy Grail for which the industry has been waiting.

The adoption of IMS is growing, but for mobile messaging, does it solve any of the actual problems that the end user has today?

Until all-IP LTE creates a critical penetration on phones ? not laptops ? is it still a solution looking for a problem?

There are still questions to be answered. However, in the meantime, it is important to start preparing with friendly user trials focused on a better converged messaging experience and interworking with SMS and MMS.

As we did with SMS and MMS, we need to focus on how we can use IMS and RCS to add value to enhance third-party applications and services.

10. Network sharing - and the need for flexible modules for service innovation and delivery optimization
As we have witnessed with the merger between Orange and T-Mobile in Britain, from a telecoms perspective, sharing networks is becoming increasingly more important.

The sharing of radio networks is the most obvious cost-saving opportunity. But for service delivery infrastructures it is also important to be as flexible as possible.

It is difficult to predict initially which services will be successful, so modules for service innovation should have the capacity for regional deployment for local services, as well as centrally for larger applications such as social networking with Twitter, for example.

It should be possible to have a balanced mix of fully centralized and local modules for traffic delivery optimization, depending on transmission cost, location of expertise and regulation.

Jay Seaton is chief marketing officer of Airwide Solutions, Burlington, MA. Reach him at .