Text messaging remains the most dominant mode of mobile data communication, as high costs and cumbersome procedures keep customers from fully embracing fancier applications, industry players say.
As revenue from voice service narrows, mobile operators are hard pressed to find a key new application that will continue generating cash like the simple yet still popular short messaging system (SMS), also known as text messaging.
One solution is to enrich the content of text messages by adding voice greetings or templates on birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other special occasions, industry experts say.
The ultimate aim is to allow mobile users to do with great ease on their handsets what they normally do on personal computers: chatting online via instant message and sending e-mails, analysts and industry executives say.
"The challenge is that voice revenues are declining," said Joe Woods, an executive vice president at fastmobile, a firm that has simplified sending text messages, instant messages and e-mails from a mobile phone with just one log-in and across multiple portals like Yahoo and MSN.
"The take-up of data services has been slow. It's been faster in Asian markets but around the world it's not been as fast as people would like, given the huge investments required. The big success story is SMS," he told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of the 3GSM World Congress Asia telecommunications conference in Singapore last week.
Teyew Sin Siew, head of telecom research at consultancy Frost and Sullivan, said that in 13 Asia-Pacific markets including China and India, mobile data contributed about 20 percent of annual mobile revenue. Of the 20 percent, up to 90 percent was revenue generated from text messaging.
"Voice and SMS are contributing more than 90 percent of the mobile revenue, so a lot of vendors or suppliers are trying to work around these two to create value-added services in the voice and SMS areas," Teyew told AFP.
"When you can combine these two and make it simple, you have a value proposition to the end-user. Voice revenues are declining and everybody is looking at data services in terms of new value-added services."