Some operators have decided to host existing IM clients on their networks, others have opted to develop proprietary mobile IM services and to try to build user communities that will drive usage and traffic. However, these are mainly in developing markets, where PC penetration and Internet use are fairly low.
Despite consumers' persistent lack of interest in video telephony and photo messaging, operators are hopeful that they will have more success with video messaging. The idea behind this service is that a mobile user on a voice call can simultaneously send live video of what they are looking at to the person on the other end of the phone.
While there is a certain novelty value to such services, Gartner believes that they are unlikely to become a big revenue generator. Working with vendors, carriers will first need to offer a service that is simple and easy to configure and use.
Services for consumers have been relatively slow to take off outside Japan. RIM's BlackBerry has seen some success in all geographies, but it addresses business users. Usability and the pricing of services have been the major obstacles to wider consumer adoption. Even among enterprises, the number of users remains small, and the market is still somewhat elitist, due to the total cost of ownership (TCO) of supporting wireless email users.
In the public e-mail space, Gartner expects that the majority of Internet e-mail providers will soon support simple wireless access to their accounts, using quasi-standard technologies such as browsing, SyncML and MMS, which allow them to serve a wider range of devices. While carriers will be able to continue to sell data plans for secure enterprise-based e-mail services, consumer e-mail is likely to be absorbed into existing data subscriptions.
Carriers have traditionally viewed unified messaging (UM) services as voice-messaging services, but are progressively looking to offer UM as a central repository for MMS, SMS, voice mail, e-mail and video traffic.
Gartner believes that the need to integrate communications options with Personal Information Manager (PIM) functionality is especially important in mobile applications, because it simplifies challenges of navigating between screens and functions.
According to Stephanie Pittet, principal research analysts at Gartner, due to the plethora of services under evaluation, we should not expect one single winner to emerge, but rather a mixture of several applications.
She says: "The most important issue for carriers to solve is the convergence of the various wireless messaging services onto a single carrier platform with an integrated user-interface that provides ready access to all messaging applications."
Above all, Gartner stresses that operators must focus on making the services as intuitive and accessible as possible to the consumer. "Mobile operators and vendors should invest in educating customers on how to use new messaging services. This is critical for service adoption, and can give a competitive advantage to those companies prepared to reach out to mobile users," says Pittet.