SMS delivery charges loom
Soon you will pay to receive text messages. By Nicole Manktelow.
Free delivery will soon be a rarity for Short Message Service. Mobile users will increasingly find themselves paying to receive text messages, as carriers pursue m-commerce plans.
Negotiations for an inter-carrier system to handle SMS recipient billing are under way between Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
If successful, such a system will allow m-commerce trials to move into commercial services that are available to customers of all networks.
By using SMS for transactions, Australia's mobile networks are opening several opportunities that focus on payment via the customer's phone bill.
SMS users pay about 25 cents to send a message and nothing to receive them.
Industry analyst Josh Lowcock believes that as carriers embrace m-commerce, mobile phone users will gradually pay for most of the messages they receive.
"You can bet your life on it. You will pay in games. You may pay to send an answer, but you will also pay to get the clue," Lowcock says.
"Telstra, Vodafone and Optus are working out an interoperability agreement . . . Every operator is going to have it (the ability to bill customers for SMS received). They need it for games. They need it for ring tones."
Lowcock says Telstra's competitors want to avoid a similar situation to that of premium 1900 phone services.
"At the moment Telstra controls 1900 numbers. They're the only one that can bill for them and they charge a service fee for collecting the money. The other carriers need to break away from 1900 numbers," he says.
Telstra and Optus have confirmed that negotiations for inter-carrier SMS billing are under way.
"We have had some discussions regarding this," says Telstra spokesman Chris Newlan. "With such an agreement there are significant advantages for customers, but you need agreement from all carriers."
Neither carrier would comment on a likely time frame for agreement. "We are working on it from both a technical and regulatory perspective," an Optus spokeswoman says.
At least one Optus-based SMS product would have benefited from cross-carrier billing by now. The carrier's "Match2Mobile" information service delivered World Cup scores to soccer fans via SMS.
Existing Optus customers could sign up for the service online, with the charges added to their account. Non-Optus customers could only buy pre-paid access from Optus outlets.
"We are offering the pre-paid card in stores around the country because this is an easy way for non-Optus customers to get the service," the spokeswoman says.
Subscription information services, games and ring tones are leading the m-commerce push, but they are not the only purchases beginning to tempt users.
Rail travellers at Sydney's Central Station can use mobiles to pay vending machines for Coca-Cola in a Telstra trial that adds the purchase to their phone bills.
Another Telstra trial allows customers to feed parking meters at Bronte Beach in Sydney by phone. For a 50-cent fee the service also sends an SMS warning when the parking meter is about to expire.
"With Telstra you can order a ring tone via SMS. You SMS off a number, they send it and you will be billed. It's not that much more advanced than the 1900 numbers but it opens new opportunities," Lowcock says.
"If you register with Telstra.com you can get an SMS when you get an e-mail. They don't charge yet but they could. They might let you set up a profile so that when an e-mail comes from an important source, that's when you get an alert."
As mobile customers become accustomed to buying by phone and paying to receive certain messages, they may also be enticed into accepting SMS-based advertising.
"You might get a discount on some messages. Say you pay 40 cents for ad-free weather - it might be just 22 cents with an ad on the end," Lowcock says. "It might kick-start the advertising market."
But in light of the e-mail spam plague, the telecommunications industry is keen to ensure that mobile phone users are not flooded with junk text messages.
"These issues will get bigger in the future," Lowcock says, particularly if there is any chance spam could inflate a customer's phone bills.
"It might be one service that is selling you the messages but it will be the carrier that is billing you," he adds, raising the possibility of carriers having to field customer complaints about third parties or deal with billing disputes.
"Our customers have said they are willing to pay a premium for ring tones, icons and messaging services as well as SMS services associated with third-party products," Soon you will pay to receive text messages. By Nicole Manktelow. Telstra's Newlan says.
"Certainly there are some consumer issues about third parties using SMS to contact our customers. It's not a problem at the moment and we are determined that customers do not get unsolicited messages," he says.
"If customers are receiving messages they do not want, then Telstra is a loser at the end of the day."
You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking Fine.'So that was nice.