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Orange to carry Blyk network

Free service finds itself an operator

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Orange has agreed to carry Blyk's free calls and messaging service, to be launched in the UK later this year.

The Blyk service will be targeted at the teenage market and provide free voice calls and texts in exchange for demographic information which will be used to target advertising.

That's all Blyk is saying at the moment, but First Hop, the company providing the technology that will deliver the advertising, gave us some indication of the services they can provide.

Blyk will be able to charge advertisers a premium on the basis that it knows their customers intimately so can target adverts to the right person at the right time.

Customers will have to fill in basic demographic data when they sign up, and First Hop will track their phone and messaging usage to further build up a profile. Websites visited will be recorded, along with times and dates of calls, but the contents of SMS messages won't be used; at least not initially.

Everyone involved is nervous of infringing privacy, a concern which will also prevent location data contributing to the profile. Location data will be used to deliver advertising to customers within a specific area at a specific time, but not stored for analysis.

The ads will be delivered as SMS and MMS messages, and maybe a banner at the top of all browsing sessions. First Hop can append adverts to customer-originated messages, but Blyk hasn't asked for that as yet.

What's most surprising is that Blyk isn't planning something more integrated into the phone handset - though such an application would require an advanced handset, it could provide much greater value for the advertiser. It's likely that handset volumes have discouraged Blyk from adopting this approach - it would need to order an awful lot of handsets to get its own interface pre-installed.

One can't help being reminded of the various free PC offerings of the .com boom, most of which were based on a very similar model. They failed because hardware got cheaper and advertisers got wise to the potential of online advertising, or lack thereof. It remains to be seen if Blyk can carry off in mobile phones what failed so decidedly on the desktop. ®

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