The future of mobile messaging

I often get emails from research companies or publishers trying to sell me things. Most aren’t relevant, remotely interesting or affordable. One this morning, from Portio Research, caught my eye. It’s still not affordable (at least not for us), but it did come with ten great report ‘teasers’. And all of them interesting and relevant. From the official email:

10 Facts You May Not Know About Mobile Messaging

1.     Revenues will break USD 300 billion in 2014. Annual worldwide mobile messaging revenue will reach nearly USD 210 billion by the end of 2011, and smash USD 300 billion in 2014.

2.     Messaging currently accounts for the majority of global data revenues. Messaging in 2011 will still be responsible for more than 60 percent of global data revenues; SMS and MMS alone will contribute a massive 55.7 percent to global data revenues in 2011.

3.     SMS is king. With little fanfare, SMS has long been the foundation and mainstay of non-voice service revenues. And will continue to be so for some time.

4.     SMS brings in 13 times more revenue than Apps. SMS alone generated USD 114.6 billion in 2010, and will reach USD 126.8 billion in 2011. Compare that to forecasted mobile broadband revenues (USD 58.1 billion in 2011) and mobile application revenues (USD 9.5 billion in 2011) and there is still much to get excited about in the world of mobile messaging.

5.     New European data usage trends are emerging. 2010 was something of a landmark year with significant growth seen in other mobile data services, beyond messaging. Trends seen in Japan and South Korea can never be seen as “typical” indicators of what will happen in other markets around the world, as those countries stand alone in terms of leading technology adoption. However, when mainstream markets in Western Europe witness trends that recur in more than one market, then we know a change is coming. Operations in Spain and Germany have now witnessed the changeover, where non-messaging mobile data revenues now exceed SMS revenues.

6.     MMS is a huge success. Contrary to years of popular opinion that MMS somehow failed as a service, MMS is the second highest grossing non-voice mobile service of all time, second only to SMS.

7.     MMS outperforms mobile apps and mobile music added together. In 2010, worldwide MMS traffic hit 248.7 billion MMS messages and generated massive revenues of USD 32.5 billion. To put that into perspective, MMS is bigger than mobile apps and mobile music added together, MMS is bigger than mobile gaming and mobile video added together, twice over. MMS is still a huge business, making a lot of money, and still growing in all geographic regions worldwide, and at a double-digit growth rate in most.

8.     Europe records the highest mobile e-mail revenue. In 2010, the Asia Pacific region was the largest mobile e-mail market worldwide in terms of number of mobile e-mail users, whereas Europe generated the highest mobile e-mail revenue worldwide.

9.     Latin America will see the largest mobile e-mail user base growth. As an individual country market, Japan has been the biggest market for mobile e-mail in terms of user penetration and it is expected to maintain its position in the near future. Over the coming years, the Latin America region will have the highest growth in its mobile e-mail market owing to the increasing smartphone penetration and the small current mobile e-mail user base.

10.  Over 311 million people use Mobile IM. Mobile IM is ‘the small player’ in the mobile messaging mix, generating revenues of USD 6.8 billion in full-year 2010, a substantial amount of money, but small compared to the massive USD 114.6 billion generated by SMS. Mobile IM is an extremely popular service, with more than 311 million users at end-2010.

The full report – “Mobile Messaging Futures 2011-2015” – is available here on the Portio Research website. Have your cheque book ready.

@twitter meets @frontlinesms

@jack – inventor, Founder and Chairman of Twitter – meets up with @kiwanja – developer of FrontlineSMS – at the “Symposium on Technologies for Social Action” (e-STAS) conference in Malaga last week, where they both spoke about elements of citizen empowerment.

Twitter and FrontlineSMS

In their quest for globally-available, affordable (free!) text messaging, the Twitter folk are not alone, but unlike their non-profit counterparts Twitter are beginning to win the battle of nerves with the operators (expect to see free messaging slowly come back over the coming year). NGOs the world over can only dream of having this kind of clout, although it was interesting comparing the Twitter experience with that faced by FrontlineSMS users and the wider NGO community.

It’ll be interesting to see where the Twitter Foundation might go with this, if and when we ever see one.

A glimpse into social mobile’s long tail

Although I’ve only been writing about the social mobile long tail for a couple of years, the thinking behind it has developed over a fifteen year period where, working on and off in a number of African countries, I’ve witnessed at first hand the incredible contribution that some of the smallest and under-resourced NGOs make in solving some of the most pressing social and environmental problems. Most of these NGOs are hardly known outside the communities where they operate, and many fail to raise even the smallest amounts of funding in an environment where they compete with some of the biggest and smartest charities on the planet.

Long tail NGOs are generally small, extremely dedicated, run low-cost high-impact interventions, work on local issues with relatively modest numbers of local people, and are staffed by community members who have first-hand experience of the problems they’re trying to solve. What they lack in tools, resources and funds they more than make up with a deep understanding of the local landscape – not just geographically, but also the language, culture and daily challenges of the people.

After fifteen years it should come as no surprise to hear that most of my work today is aimed at empowering the long tail, as it has been since kiwanja.net came into being in 2003, followed by FrontlineSMS a little later in 2005. Of course, a single local NGO with a piece of software isn’t going to solve a wider national healthcare problem, but how about a hundred of them? Or a thousand? The default position for many people working in ICT4D is to build centralised solutions to local problems – things that ‘integrate’ and ‘scale’. With little local ownership and engagement, many of these top-down approaches fail to appreciate the culture of technology and its users. Technology can be fixed, tweaked, scaled and integrated – building relationships with the users is much harder and takes a lot longer. Trust has to be won. And it takes even longer to get back if it’s lost.

My belief is that users don’t want access to tools – they want to be given the tools. There’s a subtle but significant difference. They want to have their own system, something which works with them to solve their problem. They want to see it, to have it there with them, not in some ‘cloud‘. This may sound petty – people wanting something of their own – but I believe that this is one way that works.

Here’s a video from Lynman Bacolor, a FrontlineSMS user in the Philippines, talking about how he uses the software in his health outreach work. What you see here is a very simple technology doing something which, to him, is significant.


Watch this video on the FrontlineSMS Community pages

In short, Lynman’s solution works because it was his problem, not someone elses. And it worked because he solved it. And going by the video he’s happy and proud, as he should be. Local ownership? You bet.  \o/

Now, just imagine what a thousand Lynman’s could achieve with a low cost laptop each, FrontlineSMS and a modest text messaging budget?