Has SMS’s cool younger sibling come of age?

Smile for me

In an era where almost everybody owns a mobile device, probably two in fact, and people can do online searches on-the-go, it’s no wonder that mobile digital marketing is all the rage.  There has simply been a significant increase in the use of mobile technology worldwide, with estimates of over 6 billion handsets currently in use. The fastest growing area is the Smartphone market, with Smartphone penetration up to 58% in the UK, and recent estimates predicting that that more people will connect to the Internet via their mobile phone than their PC within 5 years.

For businesses, the simple fact is connecting to their customers via mobile is more appealing now than ever before.  Mobile devices offer a chance to engage more personally with consumers than other traditional methods. For example, Acision’s own research shows that the average mobile user has their phone close to hand all the time and generally reads 95 per cent of text messages within three minutes of receipt.   Compare this to the average of 20% for traditional emails and it’s easy to see why this a great way of reaching people.

The strength of SMS lies in the fact that it is widely regarded as one of the only modes of communication that can reach any mobile devices regardless of location, network and device. Businesses, large and small recognise this and have been using SMS to great effect, but with the advance of smartphones, OTT applications and the thirst by consumers for more ‘rich content’ has meant that there is greater need to find other ways of reaching these consumers with the same reach and reliability of SMS, but with the addition of richer media and content.  The question now is whether to push the envelope with MMS as well as the more popular channels such as OTT, Mobile web and email?

What is needed is the ubiquity and simplicity of SMS but with the ability to deliver more sophisticated content.  What is needed is SMS’s younger sibling, MMS (Multimedia Message Service).  MMS is just as common and pervasive as SMS AND provides the rich content environment that consumers are now demanding.

Created way back in 2003 by a consortium of carriers and mobile service providers, MMS quickly became a standard feature on virtually all the cellular phones sold around the world.  MMS traffic worldwide will reach 223 billion messages by the end of 2013, sent by slightly more than 3 billion users 1.

According to Mashable, large brands are putting their faith in text messaging. Brands including Ikea, Kellogg, Starbucks and TV networks have started marketing outreach programs designed for SMS and MMS as the medium can be used for multimedia ads, inclusive of videos.  Even airlines are offering mobile ticketing with scanable QR ticket codes delivered via MMS, the major networks are all running mobile loyalty and fan clubs that deliver behind-the-scenes content and interviews to fans, and forward-thinking marketers are even using MMS to receive user generated content like pictures and video.

It is clear that messaging habits worldwide are changing as consumer are sending more messages than ever before across multiple messaging platforms to fulfil their communication needs, but despite this, SMS and MMS continue to play an important role and are seen as the universal messaging platform across all segments.  One thing is certain; MMS is a great way to engage with mobile customers, sending them the images and video they crave while giving those users a channel to communicate back to the these businesses with text, images, video and audio.  MMS fits perfectly into the life of today’s mobile users, who are creating and sharing their own content and will continue to play a major role in our mobile digital lifestyle.

1.  Portio Research’s new ‘Mobile Messaging Futures 2012-2016’ report.

Beating the Spammers, Scammers and Fraudsters!

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The unique reach and ubiquity of Mobile Messaging, particularly SMS, has turned it into an integral part of everyday life for millions of people around the world. It has also become a valuable marketing and communications tool for organisations from hairdressers to multinational conglomerates and even schools and colleges. However, these same benefits have proved attractive for the mobile industry’s dark side. In recent years many of us have received messaging spam from mis-sold PPI to unsolicited text from unknown sources; the problem seems to increasing. In fact, with a recent report from the University of Minnesota and AT&T Labs revealing that more than two-thirds of mobile phone users received SMS spam last year, there is no denying that these kinds of attacks are creating a headache for mobile phone users and operators alike.

Perhaps more worrying is that mobile malware, designed to make its creator a profit, is also on the increase. According to security firm F-Secure’s 2013 Threat Report, of all Android malware seen in the first half of 2013, 77% was profit motivated. The report highlighted the rise to prominence of the Stels malware, which works to steal mobile Transaction Authentication Numbers (mTANs) for banking logins via SMS.

Cyber security professionals have claimed that hackers and fraudsters are finding it increasingly easy to access a mobile user’s chat logs and phone data, including location, contacts, mail and much more. This was echoed in a recent article from the Next Web, reporting that messages sent over popular Asian Messaging App, Line, are vulnerable to third party interception. Sounding this warning, at a recent Hackers conference in India, a team of young hackers demonstrated how easy it is to decrypt text messages sent through a Chinese messaging app1.

With an open rate of 95%, compared with email’s 20%, it is no surprise that we have seen an explosion in mobile marketing from both a consumer and enterprise application perspective. Legitimate businesses are bursting onto the mobile marketing scene attempting to carve out a unique position, niche or vertical, but unfortunately spammers, scammers and fraudsters are doing the same, giving rise to a constant flood of unsolicited traffic. To put this further into perspective, Acision’s findings show that, on average, 5% of all messages are spam or fraud related, while the GSMA reports that this number may be as high as 20%. Illegitimate messaging traffic can originate from a range of sources, including peer-to-peer traffic, application traffic and traffic from black market SIM boxes (or SIM farms) and other (foreign) networks. Some traffic or message content also contravenes operator agreements or violates content provider regulations and local laws.

As mobile users continue to rely on mobile messaging and chat applications, the threat of mobile fraudsters, spammers and scammers is likely to remain, as they seek new avenues to target users. Therefore, finding a solution that ensures leaks from unsolicited services are plugged as effectively as possible is more important than ever. Such an approach not only guarantees correct charging for services but also prevents the abuse of inter-operator agreements.

With greater emphasis on the operator to protect their customers and ensure revenues stay high and churn levels low, mobile operators must now have a holistic solution that detects and prevents all fraud and spamming techniques. They must put in place solutions that not only help protect their subscribers, but also protects their network in order prevent revenue loss and comply with industry regulations. It should also be a multi-layered solution that can be delivered at a network level, effectively filtering a range of potential threats, from fraud to phishing attacks and everything else in between. It should also operate across the dizzying array of technology, core networks, messaging platforms, operating systems and handset variations.

With these solutions being in place, there is greater opportunity for operators to fight back against this illegitimate traffic and gain real control for the sake of their subscribers and networks.

Latin America experiences healthy SMS/MMS growth

Recent findings from Portio Research have shown that SMS use is still growing (albeit at a sometimes slower rate than in previous years) across multiple geographical markets.  The report points in detail to the causes of this slowdown in regions such as North America, Europe and Asia, but not to what could be widely considered as the healthiest SMS marketplace on the planet, Latin America.

According to statistics from Acision’s recently released Monitor of Mobile Value Added Services (MAVAM) reports, SMS continues to be a major contributor to operator revenues in major markets such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.

The report shows Value Added Services (VAS) increased by 34% in the second quarter of this year and generated US$ 7.67 billion across Latin America in Q2 2013 – roughly 35% of the region’s total operator revenue. SMS and MMS is the second highest VAS contributor, accounting for 41% of all such services – second only to mobile internet which accounts for 50%.

In Brazil, SMS and MMS revenues reached $R1.18 billion (US$540.5 million) in sales in the second quarter of 2013, an increase of almost 11% from the same period 12 months previously. This was achieved despite the increasing popularity and adoption of over-the-top (OTT)/ chat and IM services with smartphone users.

This trend was also reflected in Mexico and Argentina where SMS and MMS were also highly lucrative sources of revenue for local operators.  The popularity of SMS and MMS is evident in Argentina where it contributed 56.8% of all VAS sales or $ARG 2.9 billion ($US 494.9 million) in Q2 2013. To put this further in perspective, VAS accounted for a combined total of 49.4% of total operator revenues. In Mexico, meanwhile SMS services actually outshine mobile internet as the main VAS contributor – adding a total of $MEX 7.77 billion (US$ 601.4) in Q2 2013, compared to the $MEX 4.80 billion (US$ 371.1 million) from mobile internet.

While SMS usage continues to be a vital part of operator revenues, customers are also using messaging services on several platforms and devices. According to the MAVAM report, 98% of Mexican smartphone owners currently use multiple platforms, 89 % of which use SMS as a daily communications tool.  This figure is 86% in Argentina, of which 93% still send text messages regularly.

It is important that operators take advantage of this harmonious consumer appetite for all types of messaging whether it SMS, MMS, OTT or even Instant Messaging (IM). This could be achieved through strategic partnerships with existing OTT providers or by even launching their own Rich Messaging. The adoption of such strategies will ultimately only increase the region’s hunger for messaging and further increase the contribution margin that messaging, regardless of platform, makes to operator’s VAS revenues.

For more information and previews of the MAVAM reports please click here.

Evolution or Revolution?

the revoluion will NOT be standardised!

The phrase “Digital Darwinism” seems to be growing in the popular vernacular amongst the tech and telecoms communities.

It is a phrase used to highlight and illustrate the notion that, to be successful in the digital era, business must constantly adapt to their environments to survive and flourish; whether that is against the background of economic crisis and uncertainty, or whether it is to compete against growing disruptive technology and constantly changing consumers habits, the principle is the same – adapt to survive.

While the ‘adapt to survive’ principal, used in the right context, is highly laudable and insome cases essential, managing such revolutionary change may have its own challenges. This point is illustrated well within the telecoms industry by the appearance of over-the-top messaging applications and IP based messaging solutions. Some OTT companies founded less than 4 years ago is handling twenty billion messages per day in July 2013, growing from ten billion in August 2012 and one billion the previous October. This is tremendous in terms of growth and highlights that more messages are now being sent across new platforms across multiple-channels and multiple devices. While SMS and MMS have been stalwarts for many consumers over the years, we are witnessing a revolution where all industry players need to adapt, reset and bring something new to the table to survive and succeed.

Our recent research on Mobile Value Added Services across Latin America showed that countries like Mexico, Brazil and Argentina are seeing dramatic growth in smartphone adoption. This growth is set to continue and consumers are gaining access to more feature rich and capable mobile devices that can utilise multiple messaging platforms including OTT apps to Social networks with chat functionality. The onward march of Smartphone adoption is a global trend; where, in conjunction with this, we are seeing messaging services co-exist together depending on the user’s messaging habits and also consumer expectations for reach, reliability and enriched features. In Mexico, for instance, 98% of smartphone owners use more than one instant messaging application with 89% of them also using SMS. This underscores both the threat and opportunity for mobile operators.

The reality is that messaging, in all forms, be it OTT, IP, IM or SMS have had a dramatic explosion across all markets. We are now sending more messages across the mobile platform than at any time in human history. This revolution means operators, in particular, need to revolutionise how they deliver their messaging solutions to consumers. While it is fair to say that SMS is still a lucrative source of revenue and is far from end of life, the opportunities to deliver richer and more unified communication services, should be a clear and present objective.

Operators have one tremendous advantage – the direct connection to the end-user and the data on what that end-user is doing with their device – by leveraging this relationship and the network intelligence, operators can provide communication solutions that are exciting, tailored and resonate with its audience – be it the consumer or enterprise. By combining mobile device independence with even richer communication features that are simple to use and easy to monetise, they really could have something that is revolutionary. The fact today remains that there is no single service that can achieve it all (yet). The clock is ticking however, because disruption comes out of the blue and who knows what the next big thing will be that challenges the status quo.

The time is now to adapt to this new reality – we all have a chance to build the next big thing -If you don’t adapt to your environment, you become a dinosaur, and we all know how that story ends…..

Google steps towards unified messaging – who’s next in the race?

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Google’s play in the messaging space is an intriguing one and certainly something that taps into the psyche of the 21st century eclectic communicator. Three quarters of all smartphone owners today use multiple messaging services simultaneously, alongside SMS, a subconscious strategy … Continue reading