War updates delivered to Chinese cell phones

With the first waves of military action against Iraq underway on Thursday morning, mobile phone users in China had to look no further than their phones to find out what was happening.

Chinese Web sites, such as portals run by Sina (http://www.sina.com.cn), Sohu.com (http://www.sohu.com) and Netease.com (http://www.163.com), are offering updates on the war that are sent to subscribers' mobile phones via SMS (Short Message Service). The companies are pushing these services with colorful graphics and pop-up ads that play up the drama of the events now unfolding in Iraq.

Charging a fee of 0.3 renminbi (US$0.04) per message, Sina offered visitors three to four breaking news updates per day on the war, with the number of messages increasing as major events unfolded. For those who want more than text coverage of the war, Sina is also offering free updates on the war that are sent using MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) and include pictures and graphics.

Sohu is also offering updates on the Iraq war for 0.3 renminbi per message and users can also sign up to receive updates of major news, including stories not related to the war, from Sohu for 25 renminbi per month.

SMS updates on the war from Netease are slightly cheaper. The company is offering subscribers of China Mobile Communications updates on the war for 0.20 renminbi per message while China United Telecommunications subscribers could receive messages for 0.15 renminbi each.

News is one of several SMS-based services that Chinese Web sites and telecommunication providers have turned to in order to help generate revenue.

"They're quite popular and event-driven," said Ted Dean, managing director of market research firm BDA China, noting that the war in Iraq would likely cause a spike in SMS traffic as demand for news increased.

But as much as Chinese users may want to keep abreast of developments in Iraq, news updates aren't likely to take over as the most-used SMS service. "The leading driver of SMS is still point-to-point communication between two people," Dean said.

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