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France Telecom Jabbers on IM

Light Reading
LR Mobile News Analysis
Light Reading
2/28/2003

Instant messaging (IM) looks to be one of this month's wireless hot topics. Hot on the heels of other recent IM-related announcements (see Ericsson Pushes IM Interop, Jabber Teams for Mobile IM, and Antepo Intros Messaging Server), France Telecom R&D has announced that its in-house IM server has been certified as compliant with the Open Mobile Alliance’s Instant Messaging and Presence Services (OMA IMPS) 1.1 specifications (see FT Boards the IM Wagon).

In practical terms, the certification means France Telecom’s server, which is based on the open-source IM protocols developed by the Jabber Software Foundation, can communicate with mobile handsets that are IMPS-compatible. This is significant, because it shows how competing IM standards -- in this case, Jabber's Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) and the OMA's IMPS -- can talk to each other for the benefit of end users.

It is significant for another reason too. At the moment, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and AOL Time Warner Inc. (NYSE: AOL) have a stranglehold on the worldwide IM market because of their dominance of desktop instant messaging. France Telecom's development supports two non-proprietary IM solutions that can be adopted by mobile device manufacturers and operators as IM moves onto the world's wireless devices (see Is IMP an Instant Money Plan?). And it just so happens that France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE) is the parent company of Orange SA (Paris: OGE), which, naturally, will deploy the server. Orange France's IM services are expected to be launched before the end of 2003.

Jean-Paul Gallaire, an IM program manager at France Telecom R&D, says the company bolted on the IMPS front-end in order to serve the widest possible range of subscribers: “We want IM to be really mass market, and didn’t want to risk not supporting IMPS, [even though] no operator has really been pushing for it so far."

But while such a move gives operators more scope to work around the dominant, proprietary IM solutions, running services across multiple platforms means that only the simplest, most common features can be supported across the board, while more advanced, platform-specific functions will not be.

So why is supporting IMPS so important for France Telecom's R&D team? OMA IMPS was previously known as the Wireless Village, a forum that was set up by LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERICY), Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) to create wireless-specific IM standards.

Despite this strong backing, there is still no consensus about which standard best suits the wireless community. Vendor marketing, such as Ericsson's interoperability push, would have us believe that IMPS is set to rule the world. However, research undertaken for the latest Wireless Oracle report, "Instant Revenue: Deploying Wireless Instant Messaging and Presence Platforms," suggest this may not be the case. Several players in the wireless IM market have suggested that a number of mobile operators are considering developing services based around Jabber’s XMPP. [Ed note: Maybe they're just Star Wars fans.]

France Telecom’s preference for the XMPP protocol stems from its investment in Jabber Inc., a venture set up to commercialize open-source XMPP protocols, and a major sponsor of the Jabber Software Foundation. The subsequent adoption of XMPP by Orange, the clear number one mobile operator in France, will put pressure on the country's other two wireless carriers, Bouygues Telecom and SFR, to also go with the Jabber standard. "It makes sense for all French operators to consider XMPP,” says Gallaire.

Even if XMPP is adopted nationwide in France, having the IMPS front end will still be important for IM compatibility with lower-end phones that are running embedded IMPS clients, says Gallaire. He adds that France Telecom's decision to add IMPS functionality in its server also sends a message to the major handset vendors, saying “we are prepared to work with you, but we have to work together.”

— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung

The latest Wireless Oracle report, “Instant Revenues: Deploying Instant Messaging and Presence Platforms” addresses the almighty scrap between the various IM standards groups in greater depth and is available for just $400 by clicking here: http://www.wireless-oracle.com/subscribe.asp. A 12-month subscription at the special offer price of just $899 affords full access to the archives.

Editor’s note: Neither Light Reading nor Unstrung is affiliated with Oracle Corporation

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