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Tue, Feb 17, 2009 - Page 10 News List

Phone operators set to provide ‘chat’ services with boost

AFP , BARCELONA, SPAIN

Sixty mobile phone operators have linked up to develop new “chat” functionality for subscribers that will replicate the experience of online programs such as MSN Messenger, an industry initiative unveiled yesterday revealed.

The aim is to enable users to see which of the contacts in their address book are available and then allow them to start instant messaging with a system that would also transfer photos and video.

Michael O’Hara, marketing director of the GSM Association, the industry body behind the initiative, said the idea was to enable “enhanced messaging from the contacts list on your phone.”

“It allows you to do instant messaging, to see the presence information of your friends and to share multimedia during a chat session,” he said.

Users would be able to write a message about themselves — their “presence” — which would appear in the address book of others. This functionality will be familiar to users of hit social networking site Facebook.

Chat, in the new sense of the word, is a written rather than verbal exchange. Users communicate using instant messages that flash up in a dialogue box.

The GSM Association announced the industry initiatives yesterday when the world’s biggest mobile phone event opened in Barcelona where the industry is unveiling the latest innovations that it hopes will drive demand through the global economic downturn.

The Mobile World Congress, which runs to Thursday, will bring together 60,000 industry insiders from 1,200 companies, the GSM Association said.

All the major network operators such as Vodafone, MTN and China Mobile are present, as well as handset makers like Nokia and Samsung. Microsoft, Yahoo and a host of start-ups looking to tout their new products are also attending.

As well as glitzy launches and new industry initiatives, the economic crisis is set to cast a pall over the gathering with cost-cutting and survival the new concerns of an industry that has become accustomed to constant growth.

Leading research group Gartner predicts that annual sales of handsets will fall this year.

One among many new product launches expected at the show will be the first mobile phones from Taiwanese IT manufacturer Acer Inc (宏碁). One of them, according to rumors on mobile phone blogs, will have screens on both sides.

Meanwhile, Facebook users spend almost 30 minutes a day on the site poking and messaging their friends on average, with access patterns similar on mobile phones and computers, a British study showed yesterday.

The research tracked access to Facebook by mobile phone subscribers in Britain and found that the social networking phenomenon was the top site for users measured by browsing time.

Users accessing Facebook on their mobile phones spent on average 24 minutes on the site compared with 27.5 minutes daily by computer users, the study found.

Mobile phone users accessed the site on average 3.3 times per day, compared with 2.3 times for computer users.

The study, carried out by the GSM Association, aimed to provide insight into the surfing habits of mobile phone users with a view to encouraging advertising.

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