Brian Seligmann, MTN Senior Manager: Data Bearers, says it was the right time for MTN to launch its new instant messaging product (IM), NokNok as the technology was simply not able to provide an acceptable user experience for the mass market until now.
“Up until now we were not able to get a clean user interface, there was not enough handset penetration into the market and the packet data network was not ready,” he says.
MTN first began trialling IM services in August 2005, according to Seligmann, but felt that the average end user was not ready for the product back then. It was not a consumer friendly solution, he says.
So what can consumers expect from NokNok? NokNok was developed from a proprietary solution with ‘significant development’ on top of that. Error messages thrown up in early use of the product reference Colibra which means MTN is probably using a solution from IM vendor, Colibra.
NokNok has a PC suite and a client for the phone. The solution only offers chatting options on a one-to-one or group basis, although Seligmann says picture sharing will soon be on the cards.
“The product is in its infancy and we’re working on a lot of things. The user interface is significantly friendlier than other IM clients and the PC client is ‘clean’ and easy to use,” he says. “You can set up chat rooms on the PC client and if a user is not registered, they are sent an SMS to invite them to NokNok and any messages you send to them or offline users will be delivered by SMS. This will be free until 1 March 2008.”
Whether it will be free to use for the foreseeable future remains to be seen. Seligmann was cagey on this issue saying charging strategies could change. Until March it will be free. Vodacom has taken a similar stance on its IM client Meep, saying that it would be free until the end of January 2008. For now the two products are not interoperable. Seligmann could not comment on whether this would happen in future although various sources in both networks have confirmed it is something both parties are actively exploring.
“It will be competitively priced and the client will always be free,” he says. Whether that is ‘free to download’ or ‘without subscription’ remains to be seen.
Eleven handsets are currently certified for NokNok although others may operate as they use the same operating system. This will be scaled up to 30 handsets by the end of December. The first handsets are the Nokia 5200, 6230i, 6233, 6280, 6288, 6300, N73, N95, N80; Sony Ericsson W810i and the Motorola V360. see http://im.mtn.co.za/download.
“We’ve chosen the most popular handsets of our user base and this represents around 1.5 to 2 million subscribers or 15 percent of the total base. In addition, users with Wap 2.0 enabled phones can access it through the WAP site, opening it to a much larger base,” he says.
On the PC side, MTN is asking a lot of users as the client requires users to download a Dotnetfix which is 22.4 MB in size. The client itself on the PC is another 3.21 MB download.
Seligmann says MTN only sent out an MMS advertising NokNok to users who were identified as having MMS enabled phones and likely to use the service as a soft launch and thousands of people are signing up daily. However, he declined to give actual figures.
He claims that NokNok will not cannibalise SMS revenues saying they are different products. “SMS is a messaging product while IM allows you to have a conversation. They are used for different purposes. Furthermore, the SMS and IM user bases are different. IM does not cannibalise SMS revenue nearly as much as one might expect,” he says.
Logic would say otherwise as does a source at a competing network who has confirmed that IM has made significant inroads into SMS revenues for all the operators. Given that many younger users who were chatting on SMS prior to IM have now moved away from SMS and into IM, Seligmann’s argument is hardly water tight even if it does have some merit.
Commenting on why users may want to move away from Mxit, Seligmann only had praise for the small IM company from Stellenbosch. “Mxit had to educate the market on their own and has legitimised mobile IM. However, there is more to be done and more value that can be added,” he says.
He cites the network’s advantage of no bandwidth constraints, an intimate knowledge of its base, knowledge of all the handsets and the financial backing to do what it needs to make the product a success as key reasons why NokNok should become a large player in the IM space.