Asia catches instant messaging fever

English-speaking countries in the Asia-Pacific region have been quicker in taking up instant messaging than non-English speaking countries, according to a study carried out by Gartner G2, a business strategy arm of Gartner Inc.

In a survey of seven Asia-Pacific countries, namely Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, high Internet penetration rates did not necessarily mean high instant messaging usage. Instead, South Korea, with the region's highest Internet penetration, showed poor instant messaging (IM) adoption, said Kingshuk Hazra, analyst at GartnerG2 Asia-Pacific, based in India.

Countries like Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and India showed the warmest reception to instant messaging, while Japan lacked enthusiasm and had the lowest percentage of instant messengers in the region, Hazra said. "A primary reason for this is that mobile phone penetration (in Japan) is very high and people would rather use mobile SMS (short message service) than IM," he said.

The Philippines, however, is an exception to the theory that English-speaking countries are high adopters of instant messaging. Even though it is a nation of English speakers, and uses the Roman alphabet in Tagalog, the local language, SMS, is still the leading Filipino messaging service of choice, and the Philippines remains the largest SMS market in the world, Hazra said.

South Korea has increased its percentage of instant messaging usage over the last 6 months, following the introduction of local language capabilities into instant messaging services, Hazra said, adding that the Korean market is always driven by technologies that have local language capabilities, rather than by trendy applications.

Looking ahead, instant messaging providers face the challenge of making SMS and IM interoperable, Hazra said. Trials for such convergent technologies have taken place in the Philippines, although its success has not yet been announced, he said.

Enterprises in Asia are also moving toward instant messaging, Hazra said. "Instant messaging is no longer confined to younger people," he said. "Particularly in countries like India and China where home Internet penetration is not that much, people access the Web, and hence instant messaging from their offices."

"Instant messaging is going through a hype cycle where there are a lot of people interested in using it," Hazra said. "When interest tapers out, and technical functionality develops, that's when enterprises start adopting it."

Although most instant messaging services are currently offered for free, it is only a matter of time before they start becoming fee-based. "Companies will look at stability and will want secure instant messaging services at the corporate level," Hazra said. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), that provide greater security over the Internet and on mobile devices is a "trend to be happening very soon," he said.

Similarly, just like free e-mail, instant messaging providers will start charging for value-added services once they have gathered enough users, Hazra said. Office and personal instant messaging usage could also eventually converge, and users need only to manage one account for different usage, he said.

According to Gartner, 70 percent of enterprises worldwide will use free instant messaging by 2003. "This is significant since this free service will move into a fee-based category," Hazra said.

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