Communications software and applications firm Openwave Systems is looking to bring Hong Kong's mobile-phone subscribers closer together through its unique mobile instant messaging platform. Unveiled at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas last week, Openwave's mobile instant messaging application is designed to provide interoperability between mobile phones and personal computers, as well as between existing short message service (SMS) and Internet-based instant messaging systems. 'We expect Openwave instant messaging and our broader messaging services to play a critical role in helping service providers in Hong Kong build richer carrier-to-carrier alliances of mobile subscriber communities using the networks and handsets available today,' said Clinton Mong, Openwave Asia-Pacific sales director. Compared with the standard one-to-one messaging enabled by SMS, the new mobile instant messaging platform allows for a more collaborative and friendly mechanism, complete with 'buddy' lists that indicate which contacts are online simultaneously. 'With Openwave's mobile instant messaging, users can exchange instant messages with buddies from either their mobile phone or PC,' Mr Mong said. Openwave sells its middleware and software applications to service providers. 'Our solution uniquely delivers an intuitive, conversational user interface, device and presence information, interoperability with SMS and Microsoft's MSN Messenger, and an 'always-on' experience that does not require the user to be logged in to the Internet to receive a chat request,' he said. Communications services providers were seeking means of increasing revenue and reducing customer turnover. Openwave expected its mobile instant messaging system to drive such revenues and serve as a means of permitting real-time interaction between subscribers of different cellular operators. Hong Kong's mobile operators have been slow to turn their SMS operations into significant revenue sources, unlike operators in other markets worldwide, because they could not agree on a viable revenue-sharing model and interconnect their disparate SMS systems. Mr Mong said Openwave mobile instant messaging presented a viable case for these operators to improve services. 'For mobile operators, mobile instant messaging can help them increase SMS or WAP usage. 'For ISPs, mobile instant messaging can permit PC-based e-mail notifications because the platform works on both PC and mobile-phone environments,' he said. Openwave is in discussions with AOL and Yahoo! to join MSN Messenger in opening their 'walled gardens' of Internet messaging subscribers to operators using the mobile instant messaging system. 'Five major communications carriers across Europe, Asia and the Americas are now testing our mobile instant messaging platform,' Mr Mong said. British-based Genie, with 5.8 million subscribers, is Openwave's first service provider customer for mobile instant messaging. Research firm Gartner said instant messaging would be an even more powerful communications application than e-mail. It predicted that wireless instant messaging in the workplace would permeate cultures more seamlessly and quickly, potentially changing the way in which meetings were conducted. While traditional management protocol suggests banning instant messaging in meetings, Gartner sees productivity benefits online and offline with this electronic equivalent of the school pastime of passing notes in class. Because of that productivity gain, Gartner predicted free instant messaging services would be used by 70 per cent of enterprises by 2003.