One of the recurring themes of conversations with persons from mobile operators at 3GSM is what’s going to happen with instant messaging and Skype. People (at least the limited subset I’ve met) were talking about announcements such the 3/Skype announcement and IM interoperability but no-one seemed sure what it means. The general impression seems to be that if operators go for this business, push down data tariffs and don’t try and impose charges per message or whatever then they will grow the market but cannibalize SMS revenues. I’m more of an optimist: if O2 had Skype and IM interoperable with AIM/MSN on a 3G phone, then they could charge me £20 per month for a 1Gb data package. If they charge me 10p per message for an IM that isn’t interoperable with Skype/AIM/MSN, then their revenue will be 0.

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Fleeing the real world, I went back into the 3GSM congress today. My first mission was to visit the handset manufacturers stands and the smartcard manufacturers stands. This I did, without seeing anything particularly interesting apart from the Samsung NFC handset. Except, that is, at the Sony Ericsson stand, where a guy with a digital camera was going around carefully photographing every one of the models on display and (as far as I could tell) carefulyl annotating each picture before saving it. It might have been this guy.

There was an excellent panel session on DRM and content management, which I really learned a lot from. I had no idea that the different DRM camps dislike each other so much, nor what a mess the patent side of it all is. It didn’t answer the crucial question, which is why big telecoms doesn’t tell big content to get lost, but it was educational. Why can’t there be more panel discussions like this one? Unfortunately, it was a little late in the day when I was tired and not talking as diplomatically as I might have.

I also went to the keynotes about developing markets (Africa mainly) and I found that quite inspiring, and not just because of our work on M-PESA but because many of the people I spoke really did believe in the power of mobile connectivity, mobile commerce and mobile payments to make a genuine difference to lives of people in developing countries.

I went to a few more of the conference sessions. While the various operators seemed to agree that services such as IM, VoIP, blogging (and especially mobile blogging) are all very popular and generate lots of traffic, they’re all rather exercised that they can’t figure out how to bill for these services. But then, NTL don’t bill for them either and they still make a large amount of money out of me every month by providing TV channels and 10Mb/s broadband. Micropayments, anyone?

If only you could use Skype to send money to the person you’re talking to as easily as you can send an instant message or a file to them. But for that to happen, Skype would have to owned by someone with a P2P micropayment service, preferably one that had a hundred million users. Oh, wait a minute

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