MSN Messenger and Hotmail users will soon have access to a slicker mobile version of those services, as new mobile phones incorporating clients for the two messaging services appear on the market, but other messaging services are not yet supported.
Openwave Systems has integrated clients for Microsoft's instant messaging and Web-based e-mail services into Phone Suite V7, the latest version of its application software platform for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phones, representatives of the two companies said Monday at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes.
Hotmail users typically read and reply to their mail online, a costly business when paying by the second for mobile Internet access. However, the new mobile client can work online or offline, according to Phil Holden, Microsoft's director of MSN international subscriptions.
Likewise, where MSN Messenger's presence indication shows users as "offline" if their fixed network connection drops, it will show mobile users as "connected" long after their phone's data connection has dropped: The server can still deliver messages to the phone via GSM's SMS (Short Message Service), he said. In addition, Openwave's V7 software can be configured to remember users' Microsoft Passport identities and automatically log them in each time the phone is turned on.
The MSN Messenger service carries around 75 billion instant messages a month, mostly from users connected to fixed networks, Holden said. That's almost double the number of SMS messages carried by the world's GSM operators, he said.
One way in which the fixed and mobile worlds differ is cost: Fixed-line Internet access is available for around €1 (US$1.25) an hour in many European countries, or for a fixed monthly fee, making online chat using a PC relatively inexpensive. Mobile users, on the other hand, pay between €0.05 and €0.50 to send an SMS of up to 160 characters, and mobile Internet access may cost up to €10 an hour.
Microsoft is discussing different pricing models with network operators, to bring down the cost of using the mobile MSN service, Holden said. Options under discussion include charging per message as for other data services, bundling the service for free with high-end data pricing plans, or including a separate line on the phone bill for MSN services, either at a fixed price or based on the volume of traffic.
Another area in which instant messaging differs from SMS is interoperability: While an SMS message from a customer of any of the hundreds of GSM networks can be transmitted to a customer of almost any other GSM network, instant messages from MSN subscribers can be sent only to other MSN subscribers, and not to users of the AOL Messenger or Yahoo Messenger systems. AOL Messenger and Yahoo Messenger are likewise closed to one another.
Interoperability could be achieved by linking the three networks together, or by building a client capable of bridging the systems, but for MSN no such development is in the roadmap, Holden said.
Openwave isn't planning such a development either. "We have not announced partnerships with any of MSN's competition, although it's not an exclusive deal," said Openwave's director of product management for phone software products, Brian Dally.
The Openwave-MSN software will appear later this year in new phones from Sagem of Paris and two other European phone manufacturers, he said.
Sagem developed its phone, the SG321i, for a particular network operator, and is awaiting approval from the client before releasing the phone, according to Dally. The phone's browser software also supports the I-mode service description and content markup specification developed by Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo and subsequently licensed to European operators including Bouygues Telecom SA (Bouygtel) of France.
Although some big phone manufacturers like Nokia develop application suites for their phones in-house, others buy in the packages, particularly when it comes to software such as browsers for phones with support for WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). Software from Openwave featured in just over half of the WAP-capable phones shipped in recent quarters, or between 50 million and 80 million phones a quarter, given seasonal variations, Dally said.
Older versions of the software, essentially just a WAP browser, can be found in over 500 million phones sold by 47 manufacturers, the company said.
"Our biggest competitor is previous versions of our software," Dally said.
Openwave has spent the last three years developing and extending its V7 software to meet the requirements of the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), he said. In addition to the original browser and messaging software, V7 includes a file and application manager, a copy restriction system, RealNetworks' RealOne Mobile Player, and now Microsoft's MSN Messenger and Hotmail clients.
Motorola has licensed the browser for use in next-generation phones, but has not licensed other components of the suite, an Openwave spokeswoman said Monday.
The 3GSM World Congress runs through Thursday at the Palais des Congrès in Cannes, France.