2009: the year text messaging finally delivers

20 Jan 2009

If President Obama’s election campaign was anything to go by, there are meaningful benefits to having a mobile strategy, and this will be borne out across the business world in 2009, an industry expert claimed.

Chris Lennartz, vice-president of product marketing at Airwide Solutions – the company that sent the world’s first text message in December 1992 – outlined the impact of Obama’s presidency on the mobile industry.

“President Obama’s election campaign was one of the most-talked about in history – not only because of the barriers it broke down in terms of race, but also because of the innovative ways in which it engaged with the electorate. In many ways, it was a turning point for mobile messaging, employing the most co-ordinated text messagingget-out-the-votecampaign in US history. His campaign tactics were also a telling indication of the emphasis his administration would place on communications technology.”

Despite more pressing economic issues, Lennartz said Obama has not abandoned his commitment to shaking up long-standing communications policies in an effort to bridge the digital divide once and for all. He has already pledged to extend broadband to every US community through a host of initiatives, including ‘better use of the nation’s wireless spectrum’.

“Although it is difficult to definitively predict what impact this will have on the mobile industry, what we can say is that if his ambitious plans for broadband investment go ahead, competition amongst US mobile operators will certainly intensify.

“However, whilst it is likely that Obama’s administration will introduce incentives to attract new broadband entrants, many predict that it is also aiming to support existing mobile operators by giving them access to the Universal Service Fund to help expand their networks to remote and rural areas.”

But whether or not Obama opens the floodgates for mobile telecoms, he has already done wonders for the profile of the humble text message.

“For the first time, SMS played a key role in a US electoral campaign – and to great effect! He used text messages to promote new speeches, important TV appearances and major rallies. And they worked! They proved effective in reaching voters, particularly those born of a generation where text messaging has become part of every day activity – the under 30s.

“In an effort to get out younger voters, Obama also developed a mobile page that allowed supporters to download ringtones and wallpaper, sign up for Twitter updates, and receive text messages with policy updates, campaign events and voting reminders.

“Innovatively, the campaign also had the foresight to register a common short code (CSC) that numerically represents the word “Obama” (62262). This code was used during the mobile message alert opt-in process and delivered subscribers issue-specific updates on subjects such as health-care policy, education and the war in Iraq.”

Lennartz said organisations have followed. Just recently, for example. Save The Children in London sent over 100,000 SMS petitions to the English government, protesting against the war in Gaza.

“Not only that, but the number of people who want to use web-based applications for their mobile phones is increasing, with SMS often used as the communication bridge to make the downloads possible. However, whilst the uptake of mobile applications and services increases, the king for mobile operators is still SMS.”

Recent research conducted by comScore M:Metrics on behalf of Airwide Solutions revealed that the number of people sending text messages across the EU is growing 3.3pc year on year, a figure only beaten by MMS which is growing by 9.2pc.

“Such a high-penetration service provides the perfect opportunity for operators to differentiate themselves, adding innovative applications and services that marry the possibilities of the internet with the specific ultra-valuable capabilities of the mobile network.

“SMS also provides the perfect medium for mobile advertising campaigns, with its unrivalled reach and personal connection to the user. Out of office, auto-forward and storage/back-up capabilities are also helping move SMS further into the lives of users and, due to its reliability, also into the business world for banking, tickets, charging.”

Lennartz urged mobile operators to prepare by ensuring their infrastructure is flexible and scalable.

“By breaking down traditional messaging infrastructure silos into separate, scalable tiers, operators can respond to market conditions and launch new services, as and when they need to, to meet customer demand.

“They can take advantage of all the revenue benefits of rolling out new messaging types, while mitigating the risk of building a dedicated infrastructure for an unproven messaging type. Many operators are already taking these steps and will find that they have transformed their legacy infrastructure into a futureproof one that is prepared for the future,” Lennartz concluded.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years