Fast enough to overtake SMS and IM?

GR8

You've made good one-to-one use of short messaging services (SMS) and even sent the same message to several people when trying to get a group meeting organised, especially if you're under 30, writes Rob Bamforth, of Bloor Research. But it fares just as badly as email when you're trying to work collaboratively.

The responses come back sequentially as and when people are available. You don't know when your message is sent, or when it will be read, so co-ordinating across more than a couple of people is a nightmare.

Hence instant messaging (IM) hits the enterprise. Collaborative communication across the network. The wired network that is. Wouldn't it be great if you could combine the two while on the move?

A push-to-talk service launched by Fastmobile in the US this week, could do just that. Its 'Fastchat' Push-to-talk subscription based service lets a user use his or mobile phone as a walkie-talkie. That means mobile communication moves from simply one-to-one, to one-to-many.

But it's more than just voice.

Fastchat combines voice, text and photo messaging, so that users can 'broadcast' their communication to a group of friends or colleagues in the same private conversation. Conference calls will never be the same again. Fastmobile recognises that not everybody instantly upgrades to the latest phone -interoperability is key. The service extends to allow communication with users of 'legacy phones' and even users on fixed or wireless PCs who could access the communication via IM. Clearly there are some limitations in content types.

The lbiggest challenge facing Fastmobile as with any service dependent on client software, is supported handsets. The software will initially be available on standard Symbian handsets, with Fastchat launching on the Nokia 3650 and Sony Ericsson P800, so you can see it believe in both a consumer and enterprise market.

Future Symbian handsets, such as those announced by Samsung, Sendo and Siemens, will be immediately supported, and later in the year Fastchat will be extended for BREW and Java handsets. Other than software, there's no special requirement on the handset, and the software is available as a download already from Handango, so expect biological growth.

When will the service hit Europe? Radiolinja, the Finnish operator has already been announced as the first European operator to trial Fastchat, and as it appears to require no infrastructure investment, it's likely that many other mobile operators will want to trial or deploy the service.

Combining multiple modes of communication without loading the effort on the user adds a new dimension to the shared mobile communication experience. The revenues generated by increased traffic might prove more significant than for example multimedia messaging (MMS), since Fastchat concentrates more on the proliferation of messages and less on the actual content and type of message.

We may even stop thinking of sending messages between devices, and start chatting. GR8

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