Paris, 21 May 2004
Autorité de régulation des télécommunications (ART) has made public a study regarding instant messaging services.
Already widely used inside companies, instant messaging has a theoretical potential for growth on the fixed and mobile markets because it combines a number of features related to interpersonal communication: real time, user definition of favourite contacts (the "buddy list"), text mode as well as voice over IP, file exchange, etc., paired with the potential for contact which is absent in e-mails. In text mode, the user can conduct several calls at the same time with one or more contacts from the buddy list. Instant messaging services are available to computers using messaging client software, which is downloaded from the Internet. In some countries, instant messaging is also available to mobile terminals.
Once again, the fixed and mobile environments clash: their technologies and player hierarchies are different and, naturally, they use different economic models.
Fixed instant messaging services are based on a model that is currently free in most cases. The user chooses the service offering the greatest number of potential contacts, the "club" effect. Since the messaging client is simply downloaded from Internet, instant messaging does not require loyalty to any specific provider. There is currently a high degree of incompatibility between the different downloadable clients and ISP systems. On the other hand, the player hierarchy is much more integrated in the mobile environment, with the mobile operator acting as both access and service supplier. This model, which is generally paid for by the user, is based on invoicing the messages exchanged: SMS and data flows on the GPRS network.
This study, conducted by Idate for ART, lists the primary players on the fixed and mobile markets, and describes how they operate. It presents the various economic models and the prospects for service development, in particular, in terms of interoperability.