Cell phones aren't just for gabbing
September 30, 1999
by Valerie Thompson
(IDG) -- In the Philippines, a new phrase has emerged: "Text me." It refers to the practice of using cellular phones to send text messages.
Globe Telecom in the Philippines reports that it handles more than 17 million messages a day on its short-messaging service, or SMS, which is remarkable considering that typing messages on a phone keypad can be pretty laborious. Messaging is so popular among kids that the Philippine government has banned the use of mobile phones in schools because of fears they will be used to cheat on exams.
The phenomenon isn't peculiar to the Philippines. SMS traffic rates are climbing all over Asia and Europe. (Similar services haven't yet caught on in the United States, which uses a slightly different standard than the Global System for Mobile Communications, or GSM, that is popular in Asia and Europe.)
Although SMS has been available on digital-cellular networks for years, only in the past six to eight months has it taken off, a surge fueled in part by the growing popularity of the Internet in Asia and Europe. And with the advent of the newest mobile smartphones, which will make it easier to create messages with predictive text entry and handwriting recognition, SMS will only get more popular.
Short messaging is more than personal notes. In France, Switzerland, Finland and the Czech Republic, for example, Internet information services packaged for the thin-pipe network and small phone displays allow users to access their bank records, Internet mail and information services such as horoscopes, news and stock quotes. Swiss mobile phone subscribers can even access train schedule information via SMS.
The latest thing in Europe is SMS push services – broadcasting a single message to multiple subscribers. A number of software applications have emerged in the past few weeks. Swiss startup Minick lets subscribers use their own phone lists for closed group messaging. Minick also offers a "no spam" feature that allows those with a Swisscom mobile phone to remove their address from the broadcast list.
Now that SMS is taking off, a new data-service wireless-application protocol, or WAP, is taking hold for digital cellular networks. It expands the number and types of applications available on mobile networks by opening a direct gateway from the handset to the Web. Sweden's Telia subscribers with WAP phones, for instance, can bank online, book railway tickets, use the yellow pages and view news briefs. Singapore's SingTel Mobile plans to offer mobile stock trading on WAP-enabled phones.
One thing that has not emerged is a pricing model for mobile Internet access; customers are currently charged for SMS on a per-message basis. What about access to the Internet via WAP gateways? Flat fees with no extra telephony charge is the norm in most of North America. However, most of Europe uses a point-to-point, time-dependent fee model.
For now, SMS is more of a consumer feature than a business service, but that will soon change. A Swedish startup called Intentia is developing extremely thin clients for mobile access to its enterprise applications. Car-rental companies, for example, will be able to use mobile devices to inform their clients of their rental status, service requirements, lease extensions and other vital information in real time.
Analysts say enabling technologies like GPRS (a packet-networking upgrade for GSM networks) and WAP will spur the growth of data and multimedia services, as well as drive corporate use of mobile data services. GPRS can turn mobile devices into another node in the local network. And wireless apps will turn the smartphone into a remote-access device.
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