US wireless operators are finally allowing users to text each other across their networks, after years of only permitting users to send SMS messages to numbers on the same network.
Cingular Wireless, the second largest wireless operator in the US, lead the move to interoperability on Friday, the lack of which has long been judged to have stunted SMS popularity in the US.
Only one other major US operator currently offers the same service. AT&T Wireless opened its own network last November.
The recent shift from AT&T, and now Cingular, will put pressure on the remaining US operators to follow suit, according to analysts.
"The lack of inter-carrier messaging has been one of the key barriers to the uptake of SMS in the US," said Jeffrey Rickard, analyst, wireless services at CurrentAnalysis.
The Yankee Group, for example, forecasts that with network interoperability the total volume of SMS traffic in the US would grow by 40 per cent.
In both Europe and Asia, operators that have opened their networks to interoperability have seen use of SMS services boom. According to Forrester Research, in Western Europe the average wireless subscriber is expected to spend around £37 ($52) per year on SMS messaging. This represents about 11 per cent of annual average revenues per user.
But the success of SMS in the US may not be guaranteed even with interoperability, as US operators may have left it too late.
"Wireless carriers, including Cingular, may have already missed their opportunity to capitalise on SMS messaging as wireless web solutions - especially those with high-speed capabilities - continue to include instant messaging and email connectivity," said Pickard.
In addition, unlike in Europe, the large amounts of bundled voice minutes offered by wireless calling plans to US subscribers could also mean a greater likelihood of subscribers ignoring the messaging capabilities and sticking to voice calling, said Pickard.
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