SMS is the new black

A review of mass market mobile apps

Archive for the ‘Voice’ Category

New revenues from roaming

Posted by Admin on February 19, 2009

There’s been a lot of talk recently about roaming, in particular talk from the EU about regulating the industry. It’s one of the issues that confuses regular users the most – “I’ve just about worked out how much a call costs when I’m at home – but what if I go abroad?” Of course what happens in that case is that they don’t use their phone or use it as little as possible.

Well, one of the companies I got the chance to talk to this week, Roamware, announced products here in Barcelona that will enable operators to meet the new, proposed EU regulations and create new revenue opportunities.

The regulations include the introduction of tariff transparency, control and safeguard mechanisms for roaming use of data services. Roamware’s new Data Tariff Advisor does all of that and also increase customer retention, increase roaming data usage and reduce fraud.

To my mind the increased revenue bit is fairly simple – if people can be confident of the prices of using their phone abroad (even if it is a little higher than back home) they’ll use it more.

Posted in Travel, Voice | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

GeoSim now offers international data

Posted by Admin on February 3, 2009

GeoSim, an international sim card that offers travelers mobile connection without having to pay [often extortionate] roaming charges is now going to be offering data services as well as voice.

This means that you can go abraod and use your mobile to check your favourite websites, or download a music file, without having to pay roaming fees – you’ll still need to pay something, but it’s likely to be much cheaper than using your ‘home’ sim card.

If you are planning a trip, it’s worth a look here.

Posted in Mobile Broadband, Voice | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Chat with James Wanless of Talkster

Posted by Admin on January 29, 2009

Just before Christmas I had a chat with James Wanless of Talkster. To give you another chance to see it, I’ve re-posted the article here.

– – –

I  recently wrote about the launch of a service called talki. As it was launching I was lucky enough to be able to chat with James Wanless the COO of Talkster, the company behing talki.

We had a really interesting, although quite short, chat and although I’d not heard of either talki or Talkster before, both sound like they’re worth following.

James, a Brit, living and working mainly in Canada, wants to introduce a service offering cheaper or free international calls and messaging that everyone can use. So the service is designed to be not techy or complicated and doesn’t use Wi-Fi to access VoIP services. In fact in the subject of Wi-Fi, James said:

“I believe that’s a limiting factor in being able to offer a broad service.”

And I agree with him. If regular users need to understand how to access Wi-Fi on their phone before they can use a service then they won’t do it. They have to alter the phone’s settings, find a Wi-Fi location, login … and then use the service. Of course there’s a market of people who are capable / willing to do that, but as James says it’s not a ‘broad’ market.

Now, I’ve not compared the talki Java app and its interface with all of the other services and apps offering mobile VoIP or cheaper calls, but James claims that the talki service was designed to be:
1 – Easier to download
2 – Easier to use
3 – Cheaper
If they’ve got all three of those right then it can’t be bad.

James’s view about all of this is that “technology is a means to an end”. All the user needs to do is dial a local landline number to be able to enter the call – so you can give your mum a number which is a local number for her to call and she can reach you wherever you happen to be. And the ‘replacement’ numbers are issued as permanent numbers, so they can be entered into your contacts.

As well as voice calls talki also offers cheaper texts and MMS. The talki service treats your text message as simply a packet of data and not an SMS, which means that, outside of your bundle, it’s a much cheaper way to send messages. James also believes that talki should and is capable of offering “functionality beyond just lower cost.”

You can see a bit more on his blog here.

Thanks for your time James.

Posted in Ad-funded, Voice | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is battery life making the term ‘mobile’ redundant?

Posted by Admin on January 23, 2009

Here’s a second chance to see another post that originally appeared over Christmas.

– – –

I’ve recently bought a G1 and the battery life on it is shocking – less than a day of normal use seems to be the average so far. And if you use extra functions like GPS it seems to be even less than that. Fortunately for me I don’t use it as my main phone – I use almost exclusively for data and it’s not ‘mission critical’ to me if it’s dead for a while.

The G1 isn’t the only phone with poor battery life. There have been numerous reports of the iPhone’s poor battery – especially the 3G. If you search on Google under ‘iPhone poor battery’ you get over 250,000 results.

If you want to read a more detailed analysis of some of the technical issues, you can read Dean Bubley’s post here.

But I’m not interested in the technical background to this. Like the majority of mobile users I don’t care whether it is the fault of the hardware manufacturer, the software, the network or any other reason. What I do care about is that I’m getting a poor performance from my phone.

I want my phone to allow me to be connected while mobile. The main form of connection obviously is that I want to be able to make and receive voice calls – I want to be able to talk to people while I’m away from a landline. I also want to be able to send text messages. Now, I’ve got a ‘clever’ phone which also allows me to check email, go on the internet, check my location or get directions, play games and a whole host of other cool stuff – I’d like to be able to do that while I’m out and about too.

But it seems that I can’t – I can’t be truly mobile because I’ve got to make sure that I’m close to a power socket every 24 hours or so.

So what to do … Well as a user I start to rationalise my usage. What’s most important to me – well firstly it’s being able to receive calls, then it’s the ability to make them, then it’s all the other stuff. So I just cut back. Firstly on all the other stuff, then if the battery’s low on making calls too.

If my battery’s low, I’m effectively carrying around a pager.

I’m not sure that’s what all the new, exciting smartphones were intended to be … but without decent battery life that’s all they are.

Posted in Annoying, Handsets, Opinion, Voice | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Voice SMS from Bubble Motion

Posted by Admin on January 22, 2009

Over Christmas while most people were eating, drinking and spending time with their families, SMS is the new Black was publishing some interesting articles, interviews and case studies. Because you were busy doing all that eating, drinking and family stuff you might not have seen them, so I thought I’d repeat some of them for you.

Here’s the first, from Bubble Motion.

– – –

Bubble Motion is a company I’ve had the pleasure of working with for a short while (I also wrote about them here). What they offer is Voice SMS and the concept is great. It combines sending an sms, which doesn’t allow the recipient to hear your voice (with all its added emotion and sincerity – or sarcasm if you prefer), with leaving a voice message, which you don’t want to leave because you phoned up to speak to the person.

Here’s Tom’s view on Voice SMS in Europe

– – –

thomas_claytonVoice SMS has been an undeniable success story in many countries. Users around the world have embraced Voice SMS because it injects fun and emotion into their messages, and provides a fast, convenient, and efficient way to communicate. Because the service is so simple and works on virtually every handset, users have spread Voice SMS virally to their networks of friends and family. Voice SMS is already available to nearly 250 million subscribers — and the next stop is Europe.

So What is Voice SMS?
Voice SMS allows you to send short voice messages (typically 30 seconds) directly to anyone in the world – without ever calling them. It is an asynchronous and non-intrusive service (like SMS or email) which allows you to communicate without getting into a live conversation. The recipients instantly receive a notification which prompts them to listen and then reply to, forward or save the message.

A big part of the attraction of Voice SMS is that it allows the user to convey more emotion and feeling in their messaging, adding a personal touch to each message they send. This is particularly important to the youth market, which represents the majority of Voice SMS early-adopters. Interestingly, however, while Voice SMS adoption starts with the youth market, it quickly spreads to the older generation. As the youth begin Voice SMSing (or ‘bubbling’, as it is coined in many countries), the parents get hooked by the service’s simplicity vs. typing an SMS as well as the emotional attachment to hearing their kids’ or grandkids’ voice.

Mobile operators have demonstrated that Voice SMS services have not cannibalised existing revenues from voice minutes or SMS. Studies have shown that people are actually communicating more when Voice SMS becomes available to them – and that this new communications medium has created situations where people feel compelled to communicate where they were not communicating before. Now, when users are flirting with their significant other, singing ‘happy birthday’ to a friend, forwarding jokes and songs, or are unable to text because they are driving, Voice SMS has become the medium of choice.

Users are also ‘bubbling’ at times when they do not have time for other forms of communication. Busy young professionals have found that they can communicate far more complex information, much more quickly, by using Voice SMS. Many times, users don’t have the time or patience to write 3-4 text messages to convey a message that could be spoken in 30 seconds. This group of users is typically using Voice SMS to plan group events, or to send quick but important messages to friends and family such as birthday greetings or congratulations.

Even the operators who have launched the service have been shocked by the impressive uptake of the service. For some operators, over 35% of their subscribers use Voice SMS, leading many operator CMOs to now expect Voice SMS to be one of their most lucrative VAS services. For an operator community that has had so many disappointments with interesting, yet ultimately unsuccessful new services, having a new, exciting, revenue-generating mass-market product has been a very welcome surprise.

What Voice SMS is Not
Voice SMS is even easier to understand when you are clear about what it is not. It is not voicemail, it is not MMS, and it is not voice-to-text.

The use cases for voicemail are quite distinct from Voice SMS. Operators who have deployed Voice SMS typically see millions more Voice SMS messages every month than they have ever seen on their voicemail system. Voicemail is intended for users who actually want to speak to the person, but because the person was busy, out of range, or simply not answering, the sender is forced to make do with the voicemail – this is unintentional messaging. Voicemail systems are also not capable of cross-network messaging or group messaging.

Voice SMS is also very different from MMS. MMS is typically a cumbersome user experience with ten or more clicks to send even a short message or picture to someone. Once you have gone through the trouble of creating an MMS, there is still no guarantee that your message will arrive at its destination, as not everyone has a compatible handset. Even if the recipient is able to hear the message, it is extremely difficult to reply to the message with voice (with Voice SMS, replying is as simple as pressing the 1 key!). So while MMS serves as a useful, albeit expensive, vehicle for one-way sharing of files such as pictures, it does not serve as a compelling viral messaging application.

Finally, Voice SMS is not voice-to-text transcription. Voice-to-text transcription is typically a premium subscription service on top of a user’s existing voicemail account. Even in countries that have high voicemail penetration (there aren’t many), voice-to-text transcription is expensive, prone to low accuracy rates, and supports only a small handful of languages. Because of this, it has remained primarily a niche application for working professionals. With Voice SMS, however, the sender speaks on one end, and the recipient hears their spoken word on the other end. Prompts and notifications for Voice SMS can be in any language that the recipient wants to use, creating a truly mass market service.

What is Voice SMS Worth?
Operators can choose whatever price level they want for the service, but the ‘sweet spot’ price is typically between the price of an SMS and the price of one minute of a voice call. User studies and price elasticity analyses show that pricing Voice SMS slightly above text SMS leads to the highest usage.

The billing process for Voice SMS is very straightforward to the consumer and operator. Almost all operators bill for the service on a per message basis, an easily understood and accepted model used for text SMS. Operators also have the flexibility to offer packages and bundles for Voice SMS, to sweeten the deal for heavy users. (This works particularly well for top users – who tend to send over 3,000 Voice SMS messages per month!)

The attraction of Voice SMS to operators has been clear. Operators gain a new mass-market service which gives an immediate lift in ARPU; it can be deployed for all their subscribers without any client software or end-user behaviour change. Their users don’t have to subscribe to the service – once Voice SMS is deployed, anyone can use the service from day one. On top of that, a deployment takes just a few weeks, can be set up as a deployed or hosted service, and typically leverages under-utilized network resources.

Why Voice SMS is a Good Fit for Europe
When Europeans first hear of Voice SMS, they often question whether this service would find a home in Europe. This is because virtually all of their subscribers are literate, so there is no ‘problem’ with text-based SMS. However, user data shows that 98 percent of Voice SMS subscribers can read and write – showing that illiteracy is actually not a factor in Voice SMS’ success.

While 7 percent of users have cited the multi-language capability of the service as a reason for use, over 70 percent of our current users can read and write English – even in non-English centric countries. Moreover, developed and highly advanced countries like Japan, Turkey and Hong Kong have fully embraced Voice SMS – with some of the highest viral uptakes of any country.

After explosive growth in the Asia-Pacific region, expansion into Europe is the next logical step for Voice SMS. Like Asia-Pacific, Europe has a high penetration of asynchronous communication. And like many Asian countries, Europe is home to extremely smart messagers who understand the different circumstances when it is right to do one form of communication over another. Europeans can tell you exactly when the circumstances are right to contact someone via a phone call to a landline or to a mobile, versus a text message or an email, or even IM.

Also, Europe has a large number of busy, time-constrained commuters, so when text SMS would not be safe or practical and a voice call is not required, Voice SMS fills the messaging need. Text SMS will certainly not go away, but Voice SMS has entered the scene as a very compelling alternative that is efficient, highly personal and very viral.

The Future of Voice SMS
While Voice SMS currently is primarily a peer-to-peer messaging phenomenon, the potential to expand further into audio content is not only unavoidable, but is also the obvious next step. With innovations rolling out now that include one-to-many broadcasting, viral song-dedication services, and user-generated content rating applications, operators are now embracing the marketing and advertising potential with Voice SMS.

Voice SMS is a success story that cannot be ignored. It is a new communications medium that fills many gaps left by other forms of communication, with tens of millions of loyal users. Having already made a massive impact in the Asian market, operators need to get ready and get ahead – Voice SMS is coming to Europe.

– – –

UPDATE:

Bubble Motion has just announced a new suite of services based BubbleTALK. They are:
– BubbleCAST™ – a rich audio content delivery platform that enables one-to-many-broadcasting
– BubbleSONG™ – a viral content and song dedication service
– BubbleCONTEST™ – a many-to-one service that enables contests featuring user-generated content

Posted in Voice | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

SpinVox launches VoxLinks ‘Talk a Text’ service

Posted by Admin on January 20, 2009

SpinVox is the company that converts your voicemail messages into a text message. Well now they are giving you the opportunity to ‘talk’ a text message back.

If you’re a SpinVox subscriber, when you receive a message you will see two links at the bottom. One says ‘Listen’ – and it takes you directly to the message without needing to work your way through your voicemails; the other says ‘Reply’. This is the one that if you click on it you can talk a text message to the person that sent you the original message. You can do this even if that person isn’t a SpinVox subscriber. On the bottom of their message they will see two links … and so on.

Christina Domecq, CEO and co-founder, SpinVox said of the new sevice:

“Strategically, VoxLinks gets the SpinVox experience to millions more people who will appreciate that it is seven times quicker to read a converted message than it is to dial-in and listen to it via traditional voicemail and that speaking a text is seven times faster than typing one. I can see the day when thumb-typing a text is a thing of the past.”

Posted in Voice | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Tuesday feature: the low-down on Jajah

Posted by Jon Russell on January 13, 2009

Today’s Tuesday Tech feature is back with a bang, we hope one and all enjoyed the festive period.

Let’s begin by establishing a few facts about communications in the business world…

1. Today’s business world is global

2. Today’s business world doesn’t sleep

3. Being contactable and available 24/7 is essential (and the sum of points 1 & 2)

4. The European Union is continuing to crackdown on rates, yet international calling remains sky-high

5. Despite the emergence of internet communications telephony 2.0 technologies currently lack the critical mass, security and reliability to serve as a primary form of business communication

These points emphasise that mobile continues to play the critical part in ensuring businesses communicate and can be communicated with in this modern environment. Everyone has one, they are simple to use and, the bottom line is, they can be used to communicate effectively.

So are businesses doomed to a future of expensive (but essential) calls overseas? Not according to internet telephony firm Jajah.

The company, which announced 10 million customers in April 2008, was “founded out of frustration with the existing ways of making long distance phone calls” according to Paul Naphtali, Jajah VP Global Marketing. Naphtali took some time out of his schedule to speak to us.

So, how does Jajah enable international calling?

“By embracing the concept of any” says Naphtal, “any person, anywhere, on any network, with any device, any generation or standard, any time.”

Indeed Jajah works as a web-based call centre which, on a basic technical level, hosts two locals calls (one with each calling party) and hooks them up together using a VoIP call (a call hosted over the web). In doing so, the caller pays no more than a local rate for their call as opposed international calling rates which business have become accustomed to.

In practice

Making a call is straight forward once a user has signed up. Most are made directly from the company website where the desired number is inputted, along with the international code, before pressing the call button. A local Jajah server will then call the Jajah user initiating on the number they registered as theirs on set-up.

Once connected the user is put on hold whilst the second server (in the destination contact’s country) is contacted and hooked up to the existing call, from here the call proceeds as a regular one. All in all the ‘hook-up’ process takes no more than 45 seconds and a user can choose to fill the dead-time with adverts which generate additional calling credit at the end of each month.

Calls can be made without the need to access the internet, instead using designated short code numbers which Jajah generates for the contacts within a users address book. These codes can be used to dial the contact directly from a mobile handset, this bypassing the call set-up process and simplifying the process further still. There is also a mobile web site which is proving popular for smartphone users, a segment which Jajah is seeing “increasing usage” of its service within.

Quality

The call quality is carrier-grade but, at times, a small time delay may be present on the call. Generally there is little difference between a Jajah call and an equivalent international call on a fixed/mobile network.

A great testimony to Jajah success is its agreement with Yahoo which has seen the company’s infrastructure used to support all (incoming/outcoming) calls between Yahoo Messenger and mobile/fixed-line phones. The deal saw Yahoo pick up a further 97 million customers and Naphtal admits that, with dozens of other firms using Jajah’s back-end set-up, “you can draw your own assumptions on what the number will be when we next release them”.

Future innovations

Quite understandably Naphtal wouldn’t be drawn into discussing any specific details of upcoming features for Jajah but he does promise they will “go way beyond voice”. A current trend of telephony 2.0 firms has been the establishing of an internet ‘presence’, such telephony button applications and Facebook plug-ins, to link mobile and internet communications.

Naphtal revealed that in 2009 Jajah “will have something that brings this ‘connected life’ together”, so we suspect that a Facebook app or telephony button will be available from Jajah in the not too distant future.

Pricing

Prices are can be found on the Jajah website, and are incredibly competitive from the UK – although the best price saving is made when a Jajah user is calling from a landline, rather than a mobile phone. For example a call to a non-Jajah member in France will be 2p per minute from a landline, but a minimum of 11.9p per minute from a mobile phone.

The service comes into its own when calls are made between registered Jajah users, using the ‘Free Global Calling Program’, although in the UK the call must be made from a user on a landline phone. In other countries, such as Thailand where this reporter is based, calls from mobile devices to fellow Jajah members are free.

Although the service is incredibly popular there have been a few rumblings of discontent from some regular users over the recently introduced programme which allows customers to make 150 minutes of free calls per month so long as they have deposited payment in their account within the last 6 weeks.

Regularly users made the case that the policy will effectively lead to their money being stockpiled in their account. I.e. they do not exceed the allotted free calls per month, and therefore do not spend money in their account yet they must top-up every 6 weeks to remain eligible for the free calls.

This only affects a minority of users however, most users in the UK, where calls originating from a mobile are not free, will appreciate that they can call fellow Jajah users for free from their landline whilst using the credit in their account credit for priced calls.

Summary

We have tested a range of international calling services and Jajah sits happily near the top. The fact that the service is so simple, a broadband connection isn’t even necessary, it works on a range of devices and Jajah offers a monthly allowance of free calls – makes this system quite unique against the rest of the calling market.

The only mild drawbacks are a slight time-lag (which is an ongoing issue for all telephony 2.0 companies) and the cost of calling originating from a mobile in the UK. Jajah’s Naphtal has promised big changes in 2009 and we fully expect these two to be near the top of Jajah’s list of resolutions for the New Year.

You can also keep up with Jajah on Twitter, which is also useful for posing any questions or thoughts to the company’s active Twitter team.

Do you agree with our overview of Jajah? Have you had a great experience from Jajah or one of its competitors? Get in touch with us with your thoughts.

Posted in Tuesday Feature, Voice | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

12 Days of Christmas – Chat with James Wanless of Talkster

Posted by Admin on January 1, 2009

I  recently wrote about the launch of a service called talki. As it was launching I was lucky enough to be able to chat with James Wanless the COO of Talkster, the company behing talki.

We had a really interesting, although quite short, chat and although I’d not heard of either talki or Talkster before, both sound like they’re worth following.

James, a Brit, living and working mainly in Canada, wants to introduce a service offering cheaper or free international calls and messaging that everyone can use. So the service is designed to be not techy or complicated and doesn’t use Wi-Fi to access VoIP services. In fact in the subject of Wi-Fi, James said:

“I believe that’s a limiting factor in being able to offer a broad service.”

And I agree with him. If regular users need to understand how to access Wi-Fi on their phone before they can use a service then they won’t do it. They have to alter the phone’s settings, find a Wi-Fi location, login … and then use the service. Of course there’s a market of people who are capable / willing to do that, but as James says it’s not a ‘broad’ market.

Now, I’ve not compared the talki Java app and its interface with all of the other services and apps offering mobile VoIP or cheaper calls, but James claims that the talki service was designed to be:
1 – Easier to download
2 – Easier to use
3 – Cheaper
If they’ve got all three of those right then it can’t be bad.

James’s view about all of this is that “technology is a means to an end”. All the user needs to do is dial a local landline number to be able to enter the call – so you can give your mum a number which is a local number for her to call and she can reach you wherever you happen to be. And the ‘replacement’ numbers are issued as permanent numbers, so they can be entered into your contacts.

As well as voice calls talki also offers cheaper texts and MMS. The talki service treats your text message as simply a packet of data and not an SMS, which means that, outside of your bundle, it’s a much cheaper way to send messages. James also believes that talki should and is capable of offering “functionality beyond just lower cost.”

You can see a bit more on his blog here.

Thanks for your time James.

Posted in Ad-funded, Voice | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Vodafone eForum springs into action

Posted by Admin on December 31, 2008

I recently wrote about the problem I’m having with dropped calls. One of the main reasons for the post was to see if the Vodafone eForum is as good as I’ve heard. Well, it seems it is as they responded pretty quickly.

It’s in the comments on the original post, but if you haven’t seen it, this is what they have to say:

– – –

Hi smsisthenewblack

Firstly when looking into this type of problem it can be down to different things including the SIM, The Phone or the network.

I would firstly pop into your local Vodafone store and get them to change your SIM. If tgis doesn’t resolve your issue please register and post on the Vodafone eForum and we will do our best to help you.

http://forum.vodafone.co.uk/

James
VFUK

– – –

Thanks James. I’ll pop into a store over the next week or so and see what happens – and I’ll let you know.

If you’re still listening though, I’d love to know what happens to the people that don’t have access to the web like I do. Do their problems get ignored? Who’s listening to them and how do you get in touch. I think the eForum is a great idea, but it should be available without the ‘e’. How can my mum get in touch if she’s got a problem?

It’d be great if you could get in touch again.

Posted in Operators, Voice | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »