A survey by Tekelec shows that text messaging, once seen as the main communications tool for teenagers and young adults, has become prevalent among older generations. The 500-person survey shows that 60 percent of users older than 45 are just as likely to use SMS as they were to make voice calls from their mobile.
That's perhaps not good news for voice usage but shows the value of text messaging plans. About 40 percent of female users say they "mainly text," rather than talk. About 30 percent of male respondents reported they are likely to text rather than call.
Text messaging also is catching up to e-mail as the preferred means of daily international communication, with 32 percent of responses across all ages preferring SMS, compared to 33 percent who prefer to use email.
So is the fact that text messaging is displacing some amount of voice a good thing for mobile service providers? Not entirely. More than 80 percent of mobile service provider revenue still is derived directly from voice, says Alan Pascoe, Tekelec senior manager.
"Of the remaining data piece, SMS has the largest chunk of revenue and the highest profitability," he says. "Texting is particularly appealing for operators because nearly every subscriber can do it and networks have sufficient signaling bandwidth."
"Still, profitability isn’t quite keeping up with usage, thanks to all-you-can-eat plans, but operators can reduce costs with a more efficient SMS network infrastructure," Pascoe says.
Pascoe says Tekelec is not sure how much email volume is being displaced by texting. But as a general rule younger users are more comfortable with texting than older users and businesses still prefer email.
"A key reason is that an SMS message implies an urgent request, whereas email is typically less urgent," he says. "Personal communication often revolves around an immediate need, like making plans, so texting is the more natural approach outside of the office."
But email is also more conducive for business tasks like sending attachments, he adds.
So will text messaging ultimately be as "archivable" as email? Certainly operators are looking at a number of ways to "add value and stickiness to SMS offerings, including archiving," Pascoe says.
"The most common ideas we hear discussed are email-like functionalities: archiving, copying, forwarding, black and white lists and group distribution," says Pascoe. "The wild card for text message archiving demand is Google Voice, which allows subscribers to store SMS in Gmail instead of on their phones, keeping messages indefinitely."
"With Google providing this for free, it may be difficult for operators to generate revenue from it," Pascoe notes.
Person-to-person messages are the foundation of SMS, and will dominate for the foreseeable future, he thinks. "But the model is evolving so that growth is strongest for person-to-application, application-to-person and machine-to-machine communications."
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