The battle lines are being drawn over instant messaging software for mobile handsets, even though the services are only just starting to be introduced. A group started by mobile equipment and handset-makers Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson last week released Wireless Village 1.0 protocols, designed to help mobile phones connect to each other and to instant-messaging programs already in use in the wired Internet world. Handsets will come with Wireless Village software starting in the third quarter this year and each vendor has announced its own servers to help mobile network providers launch instant messaging services based on the standard. The potential for conflict will arise when such services are launched and the handsets try to connect with instant messaging software from America Online (AOL), Yahoo! and Microsoft's MSN. Craig Peddie, general manager of Lexicus, Motorola's user interface division, said Yahoo! and MSN published the technical specifications for their software. 'It's easier for Wireless Village to talk to these systems because they tell you how to do it,' he said. AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) is a different story. As of January, there were 8.8 million users on AIM, compared with 3.4 million on Yahoo! Messenger and 4.8 million on MSN Messenger. This market power meant AOL was unco-operative about letting users of other software talk to AIM users - the latest incident involved blockage of users of an up-and-coming messaging software called Trillian - and AOL had attempted to impose the same restrictions on the mobile version of AIM, Mr Peddie said. 'AOL is going to the operators and saying we'll do your IM [instant messaging] but it's got to be us and nobody else and, by the way, we control all the branding,' he told a conference on wireless business in Hong Kong yesterday. Mr Peddie believed AOL was starting to soften its stance because many operators were reluctant to meet all conditions, and the company would open up AIM when it saw there was demand for interoperability. 'AOL knows they can't be proprietary forever,' he said. Hong Kong's mobile providers were among those looking at launching instant messaging services but had not reached any conclusions, Mr Peddie said. 'Operators in Hong Kong have been talking to other IM providers [as well as] Motorola about deploying wireless instant messaging service, so there is great interest in it. Nobody has made their final decisions yet on how they're going to roll it out and when, and every operator is going to do it slightly differently.' Aside from instant messaging software offered by Wireless Village and the leaders in the field, there are companies such as Odigo, which recently licensed its wireless messaging technology to Japan's NEC for use in NEC's handsets.