Types of Mobile Services

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There are several types of mobile services that are accessible via a cellphone, namely: the mobile internet, mobile instant messaging, mobile chat rooms, mobile content services, and dating services.

The Mobile Internet

Mobile phones today are equipped with Internet browsers and large colour screens. This allows someone to easily access the World Wide Web and download online content or access online services. People can use their phones to search on Google, send emails, or access a website.

There is a move to develop websites that are cellphone friendly, that is; they arrange text and images in a way that is easy to read on the small screen of a cellphone. You may hear people talk about WAP (wireless application protocols) which supported mobile services that provide data from an online server to a cellphone. Yet, the trend is now to talk about having a dot mobi service, where the web address (or URL) will include .mobi at the end, for example: www.bethehero.mobi.

The billing for accessing the Internet from a mobile phone is based on the amount of data downloaded (regardless of the time spent online). The price of data is determined by a mobile network provider.

Mobile Instant Messaging Services

Mobile instant messaging (MIM) services are the same as online instant messaging such as ICQ, Skype, and Windows Live Messenger except that it used on a cellphone. It allows users to communicate with one or more selected friends or contacts using text messages. Users will need to have downloaded or accessed an MIM service to their cellphone. To use the service users have to be logged on to the MIM service. This provides a common platform from which instant messages can be sent and read in real-time. The most well-known MIM in South Africa is Mxit.

These messages are sent via the mobile Internet and are billed as part of mobile Internet data charges. Since text messages use very little data, these messages are much cheaper than SMS messages - a reason for MIM's wide appeal among teens.

Mobile Chat Rooms

Many MIM services include anonymous chat rooms. These chat rooms involve the exchange of information with a group of other users, usually in the form of text messages. Some chat rooms allow users to display an identifying photo or allow users to send pictures to each other. However, most chat rooms are anonymous where the real identity of a participant is not known to others. Some chat rooms are moderated but most are not. Anonymous chat rooms often have adult discussion topics and many contain X-rated statements.

Premium Rate Mobile Content Services

Most mobile content services - such as ringtones, logos, video clips, games and adult content - are sold using premium rate SMS. This involves sending a keyword via SMS to a shortcode, for example, sending BABY to 35050 at a once-off cost of R5.00 to get the baby ringtone on your cellphone. Ringtones are the most popular mobile content service among those under 25 years of age.

However, premium rate SMS services also allow a service provider to charge a subscription for mobile services - such as content, belonging to a club or joining a dating service. A subscription service involves an ongoing daily, weekly or monthly charge after a user has sent a keyword to a shortcode.

Examples of mobile phone subscription services

  • SMS a star sign to 31314 to receive a daily horoscope. This services costs R5.00 charged every five days (that is, around R30.00 per month).
  • SMS the word FLIRT to 31500 to join a mobile dating service. While the first week is free, the service thereafter costs R7.50 per week (at around R30.00 to R37.50 per month).
  • SMS the word GAME to 39912 to download games and mobile content at a cost of R15.00 per week (at around R60.00 to R75.00 per month).

There are certain industry rules that all subscription services have to comply with, namely: the advertising rules are defined for all media types, there has to be a clear agreement during the initial purchase when a user opts-in to receive the subscription, no mobile service can charge over R300.00 per month for a single service without getting permission from a cellphone user, a mobile service provider needs to remind a user that they are subscribed to a service on a monthly basis, and to unsubscribe a user just needs to SMS "STOP" to the shortcode.

Mobile Dating Services

Mobile dating services allow individuals to meet, flirt, chat, and possibly become romantically involved by using SMS messaging, mobile chat rooms or the mobile Internet.

On registration to a dating service, a user creates a short profile with personal details - possibly including a photograph - which is stored against their cellphone number. When using the dating service, a user searches for other registered users with the criteria that may include: age, gender, sexual preference or location. Mobile dating services are also billed using premium rate SMS. Some are billed for each SMS sent but others are subscription based services providing access to a WAP or mobile Internet dating service.