Mobile Phones Drive New Fixed-Line Services
By Carlo Longino, Wed Nov 26 12:30:00 GMT 2003

European landline carriers are looking to mobile phones and adapting some of their features to offer their customers and increase competition.

Carriers like BT Group, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom are adding features like text and picture messaging to more wired phones to attract and retain customers, as well as to try and eke out a share of the massive messaging market, thus far ruled by mobile carriers. BT is selling a corded phone that can send and receive SMS, while a DT unit will start selling an SMS-capable phone with a color screen soon. The company says it will have a fixed-line phone with an integrated camera next year, and FT says it will offer landline photo messaging next year as well.

Many European carriers have launched landline SMS in the last few years, though the amount of mobile SMS sent is 1000 times greater. There are some problems with the technology, though, particularly when compared to the ease and ubiquity of mobile SMS. SMS sent to a German fixed line that doesn't have the service are delivered as a sometimes unintelligible voice message, while SMS sent on BT's network to a fixed phone without the service simply disappear into the ether.

While I could see some potential value in fixed-line picture messaging, particularly for people without computers (sending photos to grandparents, for example), it really looks like these are desperate moves on the part of the fixed carriers. Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom both own mobile carriers, so why would they want to cannibalize their messaging revenues by pricing the service competitively? And given the high mobile penetration rates, chances are anyone interested in being able to SMS already has a mobile anyway.

The article cites statistics that say 30-50% of mobile phone users in the UK and Ireland SMS from home as proof that there's a market for these services. But that's just plain stupid. Of course they text from home -- they don't leave their mobile outside when they come in. SMS is an intensely personal mode of communication, so people that use it tend to keep their devices close by at all times.

Adding SMS to a fixed home line directly ignores this personal nature of texting. When someone calls a common phone line, they've got a reasonable assurance of privacy by knowing who's on the other end of the line. If a teenager calls her friend and the father answers, she asks for her friend and she comes to the phone before the first teenager starts splling the content of her call. But when you send an SMS to a common phone, you don't have any idea who in the household will read the message.

Mobile phones and SMS are intensely personal. Fixed-line phones are becoming increasingly solely communal. Important calls directed to one person ("John, we need to talk...") tend to end up on mobile devices, while calls that are more general and less sensitive in nature ("Junior's soccer game is cancelled...") stay on fixed lines. SMS messages should play out the same way, dooming any significant growth for fixed-line texting.