It's 1999 All Over Again
By Eric Lin, Tue Aug 17 22:00:00 GMT 2004

When PDAs and mobile phones were young, companies big and small made the mistake of assuming that users wanted the same things on their mobiles as on their desktops. This year the direction has changed but the mistakes are the same.


BT has begun to offer subscribers phones that are capable of sending and receiving SMS over landlines. The majority of people in the UK have a mobile phone, and those people send over 2 billion person to person SMS per month. If SMS is a dominant form of communication, it makes sense for wireline carriers to offer compatible text messaging as well, seeing as how communication is their business. However treating SMS on home lines like SMS on mobile phones is not an equally wise decision.

BT has announced that it will launch premium rate services for its landline SMS customers this fall. The offerings will include all the usual suspects -- sports, adult content and even ringtones. It's clear users would use SMS on landlines to chat with friends on their mobile. However does BT honestly think home SMS users would prefer to pay additional fees for sports highlights or racy chat sessions when they could just turn on their television and see the whole game or pop an adult DVD in, or turn to the internet for both? It has made the mistake of assuming all users want to use SMS the same no matter what device they have -- the same mistake content providers made when initially developing for mobile devices.

BT hasn't just misjudged how its subscribers will use SMS, it has also forgotten its core business. Since it is a landline company, shouldn't BT be pushing the superior experience of DSL / broadband over wireless technologies? If BT really wanted to make money from premium rate services, it could partner with broadband content providers and sell special access packages to DSL subscribers the same way cable companies do. Premium rate SMS services make perfect sense for mobile users, but not for those with richer, less expensive options. It makes even less sense when you are the company that offers the richer, less expensive options as your primary business.