Study: Mobile users blame operators for spam

Internet service providers may be used to dealing with customer frustration over spam, but mobile phone operators may have it worse. Cell phone users are more likely to blame their operators for unsolicited text messages, and even cancel contracts, according to a study released Wednesday.

"Many operators are seeing this as a critical situation," said Janos Hee, co-author of the study and business development manager for Intrado subsidiary Bmd Wireless, a network messaging product and services provider.

The worldwide survey of mobile phone users and mobile services professionals was conducted by the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland and Bmd Wireless, with collaboration from the International Telecommunication Union. It found that eight out of 10 mobile users surveyed have received unsolicited messages and are more likely to change operators than change their cell phone number to deal with the problem.

Unlike Internet spam, mobile spam, in the form of text messages, directly affects the brand of the mobile operator, said Christopher Tiensch managing director of worldwide data services at Bmd. The study also found that mobile users don't differentiate between third-party messages or messages from their operator -- to them it's all spam.

This perception concerns operators who want to market their services, or those of their partners. Operators have not been doing as many text-message promotions over the past six to 12 months, according to Tiensch, as they try to define how to effectively use the technology without offending customers.

"Operators have to decide if their messages are annoying or add value," Tiensch said.

Mobile phone spam is considered more intrusive than Internet spam, Tiensch said. Operators, many of which are getting the brunt of anger over spam, are taking the problem seriously, he added.

Many operators have even gone so far as to cancel roaming agreements with carriers who appear to have a large amount of spam coming from their networks, the survey found. Some operators have cancelled five or six roaming agreements, while a few have cancelled over 30, Hee said. This has a direct impact on customers who find that they have no roaming voice or data access on these networks.

Mobile customers want operators to engage in more self-regulation to solve the problem, but so far most mobile network operators are in a trial-and-error phase, the survey found. Some are looking at technological means, like spam filters, while others are looking into adopting industry rules to eliminate the spam problem.

In the meantime, 83 percent of the telecom industry respondents surveyed see mobile spam as a critical issue today or within the next one to two years, according to the study.

The study was conducted in November and December and took into account surveys of 1,659 mobile users and 154 mobile services company professionals throughout Europe, Asia and North America. More details of the findings will be discussed at the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes on Monday.

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Scarlet Pruitt

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