I spent an afternoon at the Global Messaging 2009 conference in London a little while back. Promising to ‘reverse the decline of messaging ARPUs’ and discussions on ‘strategies to grow messaging traffic and revenue’, the conference itself featured some big names from the likes of O2, IDC, MTN and Vodafone.
But hang on a second, this is the mobile industry – a sector not exactly renowned for its competitive cooperation and commercial innovation (compared to the world of the web/Internet). How groundbreaking would the conference really be? Would anything really come out of it, or would it just be a collection of industry leaders nodding their heads, agreeing they needed to do something useful with messaging, then after the beers had been drunk and the corporate hospitality exhausted, all go home and revert back to the paranoid blinkered attitude we have come to know and love from operators?
With limited time available, I figured a better way to gauge what was new, hot and exciting in messaging would be to hang around the exhibition and talk to some of the companies attending.
So what did I find? Representaives of some companies were quite welcoming, and more than happy to talk about what they were up to. Others were, how can I put it, more intent on hiding in the corner of their stands and being as welcoming and inviting as a shop with the shutters down and the open sign firmly turned to ‘closed’.
Armed with a notepad, a pen and my press pass, I wandered up to each stand (the ones with people there who looked like they wanted to talk and weren’t busy hiding or having customer meetings) and asked the simple question: ‘What’s new in your world?’
First stop, Comsys. ‘So what do you do?’, I asked. ‘IVR’, said the gentlemen. Hmm, ok – that’s a strange start. This is a conference on mobile messaging – and you do voice response platforms for call centres? Fair enough – I let him carry on to see if there was anything I’d missed.
The company originally provided big beefy (read: expensive) IVR platforms to the likes of Christies, and Ikea. Their focus had now turned to the SME market, and they were showcasing a ‘drag and drop’ IVR service aimed at, as the guy put it, ‘non geeks’. Give it to an office manager and they could setup a simple switchboard or platform to route calls in a call centre. It’s all hosted by Comsys, so instead of spending large sums of cash on ominous grey boxes you just paid for what you needed. Plus with the simple user-friendly ‘normob-proof’ interface, it didn’t take a team of experts to set up and maintain.
‘When’s it available?’, I asked. ‘Autumn’, was the response. Hmm. Not exactly now, and not exactly innovative, I thought – casting my mind back to an IVR I’d built about 3-4 years ago with UK-based service provider Callagenix. That was sort of drag and drop – ok it didn’t have the worlds prettiest GUI but it was point click and go with a relatively simple web interface. So how far has IVR come in 3-4 years? Not too far, it seems.
After a brief chat about life, universe and the general state of the industry, I shuffled off to find something a little more innovative – and mobile-related.
Next stop, MX Telecom. They’ve been around for donkeys years, originally as a simple SMS aggregator and over the years have moved into MMS, video shortcodes and voice. So what’s rocking their world?
‘We’ve got a large product, it’s really innovative, but I can’t tell you about it’. Oh. ‘But ask any of our competitiors and they’ll tell you what it is’. Oh. Again. So what is it? ‘I can’t tell you too much, but it launches in August, it’s something to do with FMCG [Google says that's 'Fast Moving Consumer Goods'], and we’ll be giving it a big push’.
OK, I’m still none the wiser. So is there anything I can write about? ‘Well we’ve just enhanced our 3G video calling service’. Zzz. Does anyone make video calls to an automated platform, let alone to each other? But then it twigged. Porn. Maybe that’s where the money is. And on that delightful (and slightly smutty) note, I moved on..
Another stand, another SMS aggregator that’s been around since the year dot. So what was rocking mBlox’s world? Of course the question I really wanted to ask was ‘how are you getting on with all those PhonePayPlus adjudications and fines?’, but it didn’t seem the right time and place (if you click here and select mBlox as the service provider, you’ll see what I mean).
“We’re busy moving into new industry sectors, including travel alerts, anti-fraud services, and healthcare’. Well, I guess that’s better than reverse-billed SMS and subscription services. ‘We’ve also got a new reverse charge service for mobile data, which allows the content provider to pay the users data charge for downloading content’. Now this is quite interesting. Sometimes we forget a large chunk of the market doesn’t have unlimited data plans like us ‘mobile savvy’ lot do, and are still paying by the megabyte. What this service basically does is ‘reverse charges’ the data cost for downloading a bit of content back to the service provider – so if I pay lets say £3 for a ringtone (I know, I wouldn’t either, but bear with me) I don’t have to pay my data charges for downloading it. Neat. Is it available now? ‘We’re doing a trial at the moment in the UK, hopefully it’ll be rolled out soon’.
Finally, something interesting and vaguely innovative. With a renewed sense of vigor I wandered off to the next stand that looked welcoming.
‘Hello’, I piped up, ‘I’m writing for Mobile Industry Review. What are you showcasing today?’, I said to the rather tired looking gentlemen on the stand. He seemed quite delighted that someone was showing interest in their offerings – to be honest it was a bit of a quiet exhibition – and he started talking. I couldn’t keep up. My plan to use pen and paper was clearly failing, and I began to wonder whether I should have just bought an old fashioned dictaphone with me.
Reading my notes, and a pile of brochures I picked up, here’s a rough overview. I-New provide content and services platforms for mobile operators and MVNOs – think a big box you can lock up in a rack and offer a new service. They do messaging platforms, marketing software, IVR, instant messaging, colour ringback tones (known as ‘caller tunes’ on some operators in the UK), Intelligent Network services, and other operator-focuseed platforms. There’s also something interesting called ‘Mamba’ – which stands for ‘Mobile Assisted Micro Broker Application’ – which allows operators to provide money transfer services to mobile customers. With the UK operators and regulators seemingly failing to embrace the whole concept of mobile money transfer and flexible micropayments compared to somewhere like Africa, I wondered how many people attending today would be interested in such a solution. Still, with a worldwide audience, I’m sure there’d be an innovative operator somewhere in the room.
Glancing around Lleida’s stand, and eyeing up their product literature, it looked like I’d found ‘yet another’ SMS and MMS aggregator – and I wasn’t wrong. The company, based in Spain, offer international SMS and MMS transit for MNOs, along with ENUM services, and something called ‘Virtual Handset’ – which at closer inspection is a regular virtual mobile service for receiving and sending SMS on your PC. So what was cooking in their world?
‘We’re showcasing Certified SMS today’, the representative told me. So what’s that? ‘It allows you to prove an SMS has been delivered to a particular destination’, he said. Right, so delivery reports? ‘Yes, but we provide a signed and digitally stamped delivery receipt via email to prove that the message has been delivered’. So who’s the intended audience? The brochure I have in front of me says legal documents. But surely a legal document is more than 160 characters? It seems more likely to be used for something like ‘Dear Alex, your bank account is about to self destruct as it’s overdrawn’, or the like. They reckon you could do a will or power of attorney over text. I’m not too sure..
And that was that. ‘Hang on’, I’m sure you’re saying, ‘you only talked to five people? What about the rest?’ Well, as I said before, sometimes exhibitors can be as welcoming as a shop with the shutters down and the sign turned to ‘closed’. I did want to talk to a couple of other people, like SMS router bods Telsis but to be honest they seemed to be having a picnic the first time I wandered past, and a customer meeting the next. I’m sure there were some other people there worth talking to, but stands were empty, some of them had one bloke cowered over a laptop scowling in the corner, and to be honest I doubt there was anything earth-shattering there anyway. However, I did get a chance to catch up with Jote Bassi, VP Global Sales & Marketing at messaging experts Anam for a chat – I’ll be covering that on another post in the coming days.