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Low take-up of cellco-branded MIM deters Microsoft

A PC-to-mobile instant-messaging service that enables instant messaging between MSN Messenger at the desktop and the Vodafone Messenger mobile-instant-messaging service, has not been a success, says Matt Hudson, senior product manager for MSN and Windows Live for Mobile.

The problem seems to be that there are too few Vodafone Messenger users, or at least not enough to convince Microsoft that there would be any value to its MSN or Windows Live customers in doing a similar interoperability deal with another cellco.

“We have to look at interoperability in that light,” Hudson told MMA. “If there is a community that we can interoperate with that provides our customers with some value, then we are willing to consider it. If it is interoperating with a community that is not very large, then the opportunity will go away.” This doesn’t mean that Microsoft will walk away from Vodafone Messenger, but it does provide background to the deal it announced with Vodafone at the 3GSM World Congress in February (MMA, March 2007).

On the other hand, given Hudson’s comments and the fact that generally the take-up of operator-branded MIM is low – at least, there is no publicly available data to indicate otherwise – it doesn’t seem likely that Microsoft will bond with the GSMA’s Personal IM initiative anytime soon. But Hudson says this is simply because Microsoft defers to its mobile-operator customers and how they want to deliver MIM.

3, for example, has shown no interest in Personal IM or MIM interoperability in general to date, but it has successfully deployed MIM with both Windows Live and Yahoo.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s deals with Orange and Vodafone mean it provides both desktop IM and MIM to them on a hosted basis. “They have the advantage that they don’t have to deploy an infrastructure to support their messaging platform,” says Hudson.

The cellcos have also technically and commercially enabled interoperability between their Windows Live MIM services, and in addition, the interoperability gateways that they’ve deployed can pass on presence information from buddies not on either mobile network. This means, for example, that an Orange or a Vodafone subscriber can add a T-Mobile subscriber to the buddy list on the mobile but not on the desktop, since this would require interoperability between Windows Live and T-Mobile.

Interestingly, the GSMA is backing the efforts of the two carriers toward interoperability with regards to their Windows Live MIM communities, because it broadly follows the aims of the Personal IM initiative.

However, Hudson says that what Microsoft, Orange and Vodafone are doing with Windows Live is providing a much richer experience than was envisioned for PIM. Both the PC and the mobile IM clients include personalization, bidirectional transfer of status messages, conversations between two and eight people and voice clips. “These are things that are left behind, and people are disappointed when they get to mobile and find it is the same as the PC IM experience was eight years ago,” Hudson says. “They want that PC-like experience as it is now.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to pursue MIM deals with mobile operators, having started with the tier 1 and in some cases the tier 2 cellcos in its 21 largest markets, which include the U.S., the UK, France, Germany, Spain, China, Brazil, Taiwan and Korea. It will then broaden its focus to include the 30-35 markets in which it has launched the Vista OS.

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