While checking my Facebook this morning I noticed multiple messages from friends talking about all sorts of subjects from pictures to sports, to going to Cape Cod this weekend.  But what I totally took for granted was that some of my friends were sending me these messages via their mobile phones!

With networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter growing to immense popularity the mobile communications industry has found a way to integrate the alure of texting with the popularity of networking sites.  But the problem for Mobile operators and the networking sites is that most people own standerd phones (aka feature phones) with little or no internet connectivity or service such as browsing.  Smart phones such as the iPhone and Blackberry are fast enough and capable of uploading the photos and web pages that the sites require, giving the mobile operators a big problem.

The Wall Street Journal article “Networking Sites Extend Reach” (subscription required) by Amol Sharma, talks about how companies such as AT&T and Sprint are moving fast and hard to improve access to the networking sites on standerd phones and offering inexpensive phones with browsing capabilities. For many people, the issue has become not whether or not they are willing to browse via phone, but whether or not their phones will allow them to do so.

The article mentions how the INQ Mobile device comes equiped with  software that will allow for users to go and browse their own Facebook community without a hitch.  The INQ sold some 700,000 units since November 2007 at a lower price point when compared with the iPhone ($110 versus $545).

The Mobile operators view the networking sites as prime sources for attracting higher monthly subscriptions to Internet connections.  In addition to the standard per-minute charges of phone calls (or a flat monthly fee for a bucket of minutes) an individual typically pays monthly data transmission fees regardless of browsing or uploading the latest celebrity sighting photo on their Facebook page.

The combined prospects of a premium for a more functional phone and a higher ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) have excited the mobile phone manufacturers and operators, but will encourage lower prices for smart phones and data plans due to competition. This is consistent with the recent post that Networking sites are more popular than email.

More younger people today are willing to buy inexpensive, but capable phones so they can constantly check their Facebook, or update their twitter profile. This greatly increases the market for higher end smart phones and grows the revenue for mobile operators. Exactly how Facebook and Twitter make money from this remains to be seen, but their services are increasingly being a reason to purchase one mobile phone versus another.

Mobile voice – seems to be increasingly passé.

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