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Mobile operator O2 is to extend its international text messaging offering from the end of this month.

O2's UK and Ireland customers will be able to exchange text messages with mobile users in North America and send messages to users in Japan and subscribers of Telecom New Zealand, following the launch of the service.

SMS messages will be charged at standard O2 international rates of €0.25. This is the same charge as for a similar, but more limited, Vodafone service launched in December 2003.

The expansion of the international text messaging facility is the result of an agreement with US inter-carrier mobile messaging vendor InphoMatch. Vodafone Ireland also uses the Chantilly, Virginia-based company to convert SMS messages into the CDMA wireless protocol, which dominates the US market as well as some Asian markets. Until recently, international interoperability existed only between GSM mobile networks, covering about 17 per cent of all US mobile users.

The enhanced service opens up a potential market of more than 150 million people to O2 and will be available to both post and pre-pay O2 customers.

The US has a comparatively weak SMS market, due to a slow SMS technology uptake and the low cost of both fixed line and mobile voice calls. Operators bundle thousands of "free" minutes with subscription plans and as a result SMS has not taken off as the mass communication method used by thousands of Irish mobile users.

© ENN

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