Phone as Beacon

The idea that your cellphone may become a beacon of your availability took one small step closer yesterday, although you’d be forgiven for not noticing amid all the post-turkey bloat.

The theory is this. Cellphones have gotten smarter, but they still miss one vital ingredient that computer users have had for years: presence. Anyone using an instant messenger, from ICQ to Skype, will know that they can indicate to their buddies, colleagues and family whether they’re at their computer, in a meeting, dead, or whatever.

I’m not available. Leave a message

This is useful information: It’s a bit like knowing whether someone is at home before you phone them. But this only works if the computer is on, connected to the Internet and the user has the software installed and sets their ‘presence’ accordingly.

Think how more powerful this concept would be if you carried it with you: if your cellphone could transmit to friends, colleagues and family whether you were available — and even where you were. This is not that hard to do, via the same instant messaging programs that now operate only on your PC. This is the vision of companies like instant messaging developer Followap, bought yesterday by a company called NeuStar, which handles a lot of cellphone number traffic via its directory services. (Followap press release here.)

The problem remains twofold: how to get all the instant messaging users onto their cellphone, and how to make these services work with each other, or interoperate. After a decade of these services, few still allow a message sent from one service to reach another. NeuStar, according to Frost & Sullivan analyst Gerry Purdy, has been developing the standards for mobile instant messaging, or Mobile IM, not just in terms of Session Internet Protocol (which sets up the communication between two users) but also for interoperability and directory standards.

Clearly NeuStar, positioned at the hub of cellphone traffic, are well placed to see the potential of Mobile IM and to act on it. Followap have the software and the ears of some cellular operators. I should have spotted that both companies occupied booths next to each other at Singapore’s recent 3GSM Asia confab, and were busy singing each other’s praises. (I wrote something about Followap in my weekly column earlier this month, tho subscription only, I’m afraid.)

Of course, it’s going to be a long march to persuade the big players like Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft to share their IM traffic with each other (something they’ve not yet managed to do on the PC) but also with cellular operators, but something like that needs to happen if Mobile IM is going to take off. Says Mr. Purdy in his most recent note (sorry, can’t find this online): “And, maybe – just maybe – the NeuStar-Followap combination will lead to the Holy Grail in messaging – where all portal users and wireless subscribers will be able to freely IM each other. That would be huge.”

It would be huge, but don’t underestimate the power of SMS. Gerry sees SMS as having inherent limitations — 160 characters only, lack of message threading — but these aren’t necessarily downsides. The character limit has never been considered a real burden for most users, who either enjoy the brevity or else can simply send a longer message and have it split. As for message threading, this is a simple software problem that is being fixed in many phones. Mobile IM will only really take off if it is cheaper than SMS and includes powerful features that extend the use of the phone to a device to signal one’s availability, or presence.

For me the best thing about the Followap demo I received was that by switching your phone to silent your buddy list presence was automatically switched to ‘Do not Disturb.’ Immediately, all your buddies/colleagues/family know you not available without having to do anything. Now, that’s a glimpse of the future.

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28. November 2006 by jeremy
Categories: Networks, Phones | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 comment

One Comment

  1. The Day the Tech Failed
    by Joel Phillips

    Scientology, at its most advanced levels, gives you control over matter, energy, space and time, which L. Ron Hubbard referred to as MEST.

    Well, right now it is not working.

    The Wiccans, Indonesians and Russians who are out to get me put up this blog. Take a look at joelphillipsreligiousfreedomwatch.blogspot.com and then http://www.religiousfreedomwatch.org and think about it.

    Try as I might I was unable to control the electrons on this blog. So I had to go and complain to Google about it. That makes me very sad. What is also sad is that I could not do it myself but I had to get S. Sullivan, who takes care of my computer matters to do it for me. I did not even know how to explain to Google what these people had done!

    But, the struggle goes on! I will keep my site up to date with news on zealots, perverts, apostates, hardliners, pederasts, Jihad supporters, sleeper cell members, terrorists, bombers, child molestors and other foes of religious freedom.

    Even though American Coast Title is not a Scientology WISE company its other two owners, Frank Berriz and Linda Blood, recognize the need to stand up for religious freedom. So too do the employees, Carla Baumgartner, Caitlin Bryant, Chris Celaya, Derrick Hatchett, Michelle Lindgren, Ron McIntosh, George Ramirez, Gaby Salgado, Jeff Smith, Al Solorzano, John Solorzano, Yvette Solorzano and Nicole Vong. Each and every one has stood straight and strong when the extremists have come knocking on the door of American Coast Title seeking to bring the destruction of religious freedom to Glendale.