Canadian carriers promise interoperable SMS

TORONTO — Canada’s four largest wireless carriers Tuesday said they would offer interoperable short text messaging over their networks, allowing customers to exchange messages on cell phones and other devices regardless of their service provider.

Bell Mobility, Rogers AT&T Wireless, Microcell Connexions and Telus Mobility made the announcement at the Communications 2001 trade show and conference. The four rivals did not disclose a date when interoperable SMS (short message service) will be available.

According to the wireless industry group GSM Association, more than 750 million SMS messages are sent to cell phones every day, but the majority of the activity is happening in Japan and Europe. Though an A.T. Kearney survey released last month indicates SMS messaging was up 50 per cent in the United States since January, experts have indicated lack of interoperability has stalled the adoption rate.

“Just think about voice and where we would be if you couldn’t make phone calls to people who were customers of a different network,” said Bell Mobility president Pierre Blouin in making the announcement. “It’s time to clear the hurdles and the barriers.”

The agreement, which the partners called a North American first, will use the Inter-SMSC Router (ISR) service from CMG Wireless Data Solutions to bridge all of the major mobile network technologies, including TDMA, CDMA and GSM and operate as an independently hosted platform. The messages will be sent using the short message peer-to-peer (SMPP) protocol.

SMS has largely been marketed to teenagers, but Rogers AT&T Wireless president Nadir Mohamed said many of the 40,000 customers using the BlackBerry wireless pager it resells for Research In Motion may see SMS as a productivity tool. “Immediacy will be the application,” he said. “We’re moving from not merely being mobile but to being always-on.”

“It won’t replace voice, though it’s clear everywhere that SMS is taking off very rapidly,” said Microcell Connexions president Alain Rheaume. “For youth, it’s something they get used to very quickly.”

A key question raised by a developer — which wasn’t answered — concerned the pricing model for the interoperable service. A variety of models are already in place. Some charge the sender of the message, while in other cases the person receiving the message is charged.

For Jozef Hubburmin, president of Surrey, B.C.-based Hi-Performance Enterprises Inc., the distinction is important. Hi-Performance develops SMS applications like Cellpages.com. Hubburmin said any inconsistency in the way the carriers charge for the interoperable service could jeopardize application development in this space.

“They keep talking about how they want to make money from data services — well, who’s going to develop them?” he said. “It’s not going to be the telcos. It’s going to be us.”

Mohamed dodged the question by pointing to models in Europe whereby the sender of the message is charged for the service. In some cases users could be charged 10 cents a message. “It won’t be free,” he said. “As we unfold, you will see us charging for them.”

George Cope, the former president of Clearnet who now runs Telus Mobility, said the carriers began talking about SMS interoperability about eight months ago. “This wasn’t anything the carriers were philosophically opposed to,” he said. “It was a matter of finding a common platform to make this happen.”

Blouin said concerns over competitive information may be keeping interoperability from becoming a reality in the U.S. “It takes time to get all the issues on the table,” he said. “It’s not really a technology concern. We have the technology to make it happen.”

The IP network and all the hardware and software components will be centrally maintained at a CMG facility in Toronto.

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