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3GSM A group of 15 mobile operators worldwide launched plans to roll out interoperable instant messages to mobiles in a move designed to emulate the success of text messaging in the 1990s.

Operators including Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile, TeliaSonera, Telefonica and China Mobile plan to roll out services that operate across different networks. Five GSM operators in India have also been on board with the scheme.

Mobile operators plan to charge users on a "calling party pays principle", under which consumers pay to send messages but not to receive them. That compares to current IM services which typically operate as single operator silos where users pay both to send and receive messages. The GSM Association said the scheme, dubbed Personal IM, has a potential market of 700m subscribers. Operators omitted to give pricing details when the rollout plans were announced during a press conference at 3GSM conference in Barcelona on Monday.

Only recent handsets support IM. Mobile operators downplayed suggestions that mobile IM use would eat into SMS revenues. Personal IM is being positioned as an alternative to PC messaging in developing countries such as India and a different form of communication that will boost data calls in western Europe. T-Mobile chief executive Rene Obermann said "SMS is fire and forget, while IM is more chatty". ®

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