SMS vs. Mobile Internet: Scaling the mobilephone

15 11 2010

Would you trade your cell phone’s  Short Message Service (SMS) functionality for the Mobile Internet (GPRS/EDGE/3G+) functionality?

Even though I prefer mobile internet to SMS, I am not sure whether I would trade my SMS functionality for the mobile internet functionality – even though I can still keep both!

Of course some people would frankly say “YES”, because of the well known SMS limitations:–

  • Each message is limited to 160 Character,
  • SMS is more expensive as opposed to data (if you think about it, literally),
  • SMS is getting outdated (a concept that I don’t agree with!).
  • Some people don’t know how the SMS functionality on their phones works

The other obvious reasons as to why one would choose mobile internet over SMS in a country like Uganda (and/ Africa) today:

  • Phone calls are becoming cheaper and cheaper with the current competition among telecoms
  • The growth of mobile internet in Africa and Uganda to be more specific

That being said, what are the advantaged of SMS over Mobile Internet?

As Mobile Internet continues to rollout in Uganda, SMS remains a useful extension of online services. SMS marketing and advertizing is becoming a major trend in Uganda because it is cheap when sent out in bulk. “Often I receive advertizing SMS messages from different short codes (not to mention my carrier) either advertising products, events or even services.”

Most importantly other people/organisations are using SMS more innovatively to disseminate relevant information to the wider communities. For example, over the past 2 years I have provided technical support on Women of Uganda Network’s SMS campaigns aimed at raising awareness of Violence Against Women. Text To change – “uses state of the art mobile phone technology to collect and disseminate health information”. The Kuyu Project is developing “StorySpaces”  – an application which aims at using the tools that the end users are most familiar with, which in this case is the mobile phone, and turning it into a tool for participating in global conversations. Its such innovations that

Every other year gives me assurance on the relevance of SMS as a tool for extending online services and breaking the barrier of the “digital divide”.

And there is no doubt SMS is technically cheaper than data in the long run because once an SMS is stored in your inbox, you can read the message as many times as you want with NO extra charges. But lets look at data (mobile internet for example) – even though the cost is shared between the sender and the receiver, that is, the sender pays for uploading the data and the receiver pays for downloading the data; the receiver will be charged every time he/she revisits the same data. This makes data quite expensive.

SMS cannot work as a substitute to the (mobile) internet in any case and often the cost of SMS to me can never go unrealized (because its post paid) as opposed to the postpaid mobile internet charges.

Question remains, how badly is the mobile internet revolution in Africa likely to affect the SMS based applications, usage and innovations?