Robert Vrij is President and CEO of Openwave. He served formerly as President and CEO of Lucent Technologies’ Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) operation. Recently, he was responsible for the successful start-up of GENBAND, a leading VoIP gateway company. During his prior tenure at AT&T/Unisource, Mr Vrij was responsible for the development, product lifecycle management, and P&L results for numerous product lines. Robert Vrij holds a B.A. in Marketing from Southwest Texas State University and an MBA from St. Thomas University in Texas.
Text or multimedia messaging is not standardised; different messaging technologies require different access methods. To be effective, users must be able to send messages from different devices without concerning themselves with the delivery mechanism. The OMA (Open Mobile Alliance) has begun developing standards for unified messaging on mobile devices. A truly converged communications experience would allow users to receive these messages on PCs, VoIP clients, or mobile devices without needing to know where the recipient is before sending a message.
The communications industry is on the cusp of a dynamic shift, as real-time communications are converging with traditional forms of messaging and the promise of convergence across many siloed channels becomes a reality. The converged approach to communications ensures that users can be reached no matter where or how connected, with full control over their availability. Converged communications takes into account the needs of service providers and consumers in a converged marketplace, and offers the ability to personalise and simplify messaging services, so that consumers can focus on the act of communication and the way they want to be communicated with, rather than the network, device or protocol used. From the operator’s perspective, converged communications offer a host of key benefits, including increased subscriber usage, reduced churn, as a driver of new service adoption and the ability to monetise these services. The primary messaging interaction on mobile devices today is over SMS, which while being a great tool for short message communication between mobile users, is not suitable to reach such consumers as PC users, IM communities, etc. Most of the mobile- to PC- messaging experience today comes from BlackBerry or similar full keyboard devices, and there is a definite need for an overall integrated user experience on the mobile messaging front. Messaging clients today are not very well integrated; different clients are used for different messaging technologies. Even when a level of integration is offered, the user is often asked to select the messaging format he or she wants to use for specific messages (e.g., integrated SMS/MMS messaging clients on most phones). For non-technical users - the vast majority - this requirement to select the transport method can represent a substantial barrier to usage. To be effective, users must be able to send messages from different devices with little or no knowledge required about the technology behind the delivery mechanism. Additional barriers to usage are created by the need to configure multiple clients (for each transport) and the negative perception of the pricing model for the different messaging transports. Standards bodies such as OMA (Open Mobile Alliance) have begun developing requirements that allow both asynchronous and synchronous messaging in a unified experience on the mobile device. While these efforts are mostly focused on IMS-based devices and networks, there is a huge installed base of non-IMS device deployed today that could utilise a better messaging experience right now. The challenge for operators is to leverage existing Internet communities without being bypassed by the end user. So what can be done today to improve the mobile messaging experience? The following sections address this question both from a user perspective as well as an operator perspective. PC /mobile messaging An integrated messaging application that allows sending and receiving SMS/email/IM seamlessly to either PCs and/or mobile phones would bring together different communities, and would also improve communication and user experience while increasing network traffic. During the span of a day, contacts in a user’s address book can be reached on their PC, their mobile phone or both. Today, when a user sends a message, the message type is driven not by the recipient’s availability, but by the channels available to the sender. In a converged messaging paradigm, the sender should not need to know where the recipient is before sending a message, while still expecting the message to be received and viewed promptly. As the transport becomes transparent to the end users, operators should look at moving towards a uniform charging model for all forms of transport. Single address book One of the most important assets today is a user’s address book contacts. However, the issue with most address books is fragmentation; a user has separate contacts for mobile phone, work email, personal mail, webmail, IM buddy list, etc. In an increasingly converging world, one key factor for success of a messaging service is for its users to have access to their contacts across multiple devices. For operators, it is important that these contacts be made available to multiple services within an operator’s network. A single network-based address book is crucial for a true converged communications experience. Advertising and merchandising Mobile advertising is a viable business opportunity that has moved into the mainstream as mobile operators begin to deploy it in several regions. The market consensus is that spending by advertisers within mobile is expected to double in the next three years, quickly becoming a multi-billion-dollar market. Operators are well positioned to be an integrated part of the mobile advertising ecosystem and capture part of this revenue. The latest market research and initial trials shows that many consumers will accept advertisements on their mobile device. An integrated messaging solution must incorporate the capability to leverage the new advertising revenue opportunities available to the operator, and should include at least a banner ad and intelligent linking to merchant partners (based on the message content). Additionally, intelligent, targeted and individually tailored profiling could deliver increasingly higher ad penetration rates. As for messaging client behaviour, advertising will require some adaptation for the mobile world to reduce the perception of intrusion, since the ad might take up a greater part of the screen in comparison with a PC screen. This could be controlled in part by a set of carefully selected user preferences; for example, the capability to opt-in to the advertising service in exchange for some benefits. Because the ideal model for mobile advertising and merchandising has not yet been established, the integrated messaging system should be flexible in the way it is treated. Smarter call completion Most operators would agree that voice is still the dominant revenue source, and most would also agree that voice will continue to be a main driver well into the future. But, looking more closely at voice usage, we see a remarkable failure to communicate. There are several reasons for uncompleted calls: the phone was off, there was poor network coverage or the network was busy, the called party couldn’t talk and rejected the call, or the caller hung up before the call was complete. According to a study conducted by The Messaging Industry Association (TMIA), 60 per cent of North American callers hang up when they reach an outgoing message in a voicemail system. In Europe, the hang up rate is 80 per cent and in Asia the rate in many countries can be as high as 99 per cent. The bottom line is that incomplete calls and caller failure to leave voicemails is a problem for most operators. The smart SMS solutions on the horizon are promising to bring relief to the ‘hang up/failure to leave message’ syndrome. There are services that use voice calling as a way of driving messaging usage. For example, one offering can insert messaging right into the path of a voice call and enable the user to intelligently manage the call, thus adapting to the way subscribers want to communicate. If a user receives a call and rejects it because they are unable to accept it, a menu pops up on the phone screen that enables the user to send a text message, divert the call to another number or send it to voicemail. Another option can utilise network availability information to make it easier to get through to the other party when a call attempt was not successful by notifying the caller via SMS when the called party is available so that they can try the call again. While SMS allows users to receive call management messages on a mobile phone, a true converged communications experience would allow users to receive these messages on any device including PC, VoIP client, or handheld device. Messaging is still largely a siloed experience from the client/transport device and community aspects. Because of this, the user experience is not what it could be and messaging traffic has not reached its full potential, impacting additional revenue from messaging such as advertising and merchandising. Providing easy cross-community communications, centred on a single address book, would unleash untapped messaging potential both directly from the improved traffic and from the incremental revenue generated by advertising and merchandising.