The technology from Annapolis, Md.-based TeleCommunication System (TCS) was unleashed just as U.S.-based Verizon Communications and AT&T started offering SMS (short messaging service) to their customers in North America.
SMS is a mixture of instant messages and e-mail received over a wireless device, mostly cell phones. It has taken Europe by storm, where an estimated 1 billion of these types of messages are sent each month. Analysts think its popularity is driven because it's easy to use and there is a 75 percent rate of cell phone penetration in some European countries.
But in the United States, sending a short text message is more complex than just having to enter a phone number, as done in Europe. Instead, U.S. consumers have to know a phone number, the person's carrier, and a complicated domain name. Plus, some phones aren't equipped with the technology to send or receive instant messages.
TCS vice president Tim Zenk said the company isn't pretending to cure all the wireless ills in the United States. But it does make it easier to send a short message between different carriers, which could help fuel the long-awaited wireless boom, he said.
The TCS product has received a cautious thumbs-up from a couple of analysts.
"There's a lot of potential for uptake," said Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin. "But I don't think it alone is what will turn wireless around. There will be no Dick Tracy wrist watch."
The company's technology likely also has a limited lifespan. In Europe, it's unnecessary because there is one cell phone standard, GSM. But in North America, there are at least four, and some carriers have different standards for different customers. Once the United States settles on a standard, TCS's product becomes moot.
"But that isn't going to happen anytime soon," said Becky Derrecks of Cahners In-Stat Group.
TCS is also the first of a number of companies expected to offer American service providers a simpler way for their customers to communicate with each other using SMS.
More than two-thirds of those surveyed by Forrester last year say they would use an SMS service, according to a report authored by Golvin and fellow analyst David M. Cooperstein.
CanBox is already offering some service in the United States, allowing European customers the ability to have cross platform, two-way messaging while in the United States. Zenk was unsure how Room33 plans to use the technology.
TCS is also working for Verizon, where it powers the two-way messaging service that Verizon began offering in mid-January, though TCS has yet to sign any deals to offer the new, cross-platform capabilities, Zenk said.
The company has also done business with VoiceStream Wireless and Qwest Communications International, although no deals have been inked yet, Zenk said.