The largest European mobile operators are joining forces to launch their own instant messaging and content sharing applications under the "joyn" brand as they try to claw back some of traffic lost to Internet services.
On Wednesday, Spain became the first country in which multiple operators are offering joyn services, which allow their subscribers to communicate with each other. Movistar (owned by Telefónica), Orange and Vodafone participated in the launch.
Subscribers with Android-based smartphones can download an application and start sending instant messages to one or a group of users, share files and do one-way video sharing, which lets users show friends and colleagues what they are looking at using the phone, according to GSM Association.
The GSMA owns the joyn trademark and is in charge of developing the underlying technology.
The joyn services will be directly integrated with users' smartphone address books. The address books will indicate which contacts have a joyn-compatible smartphone and show the options that users have to communicate with them.
Accredited devices from everyone except Apple, Motorola
An application for the iPhone will become available soon. Smartphones with an embedded joyn client, which will eliminate the need to download a separate application, will become available in Spain in January as well, said Graham Trickey, senior director at GSMA.
"We have accredited devices from eight out of the top 10 biggest phone vendors" with the embedded client, Trickey said.
The two missing vendors are Apple and Motorola. Smartphones from Samsung Electronics, Huawei, HTC and LG Electronics have all been approved.
The simplicity of having an embedded client will help operators compete with existing services, according to Alex Nourouzi, director of product marketing at Orange.
Additional services such as IP-based video and voice calls will be introduced in the near future, the GSMA says.
In Germany, interconnected joyn services will become available to Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom subscribers in December, according to a spokesman at Deutsche Telekom
In 2013, services are also expected to be launched in France, Orange said.
In the US, MetroPCS has already launched joyn services.
"AT&T and Verizon are very much involved in the project and have been for many years. They are working towards a launch, but are not able to say anything at the moment," Trickey said.
Increasing revenue streams from messaging
Making this work is important for operators. Their revenue from voice and messaging is under increasing pressure from Web services such as WhatsApp and Skype. With smartphone sales increasing, more users can also choose these applications instead of regular voice calls and text messages.
Messaging has been a very important revenue stream, but other than image sharing using MMS, it hasn't evolved as a service.
"This is about stepping up our game and deliver services that our users want ... This isn't like SMS, where we launch, sit back and let the money roll in, not at all. We are going to continue to innovate," Nourouzi said.
Getting this far has taken the operators more than four years.
The Rich Communication Suite (RCS) Initiative, which the joyn services are based on, was announced in February 2008, with the purpose of turning the IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) framework - which is also the basis for Voice over LTE - into standardised services offered by mobile operators.
"It is a long tunnel we have gone through to get all the elements in place," Trickey said.
Even if operators are now on the right track when it comes to the roll-out of services, getting subscribers to adopt it on the massive scale needed for it to become useful isn't going to be easy.