Microsoft announced Wednesday a deal with France Telecom to place Windows Live Messenger onto the wireless carrier's handsets, enabling customers to instant message each other from their mobile phones. The service will also launch in the UK and Spain next year.
Although a version of MSN Messenger is already available for some phones, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the new software is different, and more feature-filled. It will eventually enable 135 million France Telecom customers to communicate with Microsoft's 240 million IM users around the world.
The service is expected to begin rolling out in December, and will be supported by six devices initially. That number is expected to reach several dozen by the end of 2007. Orange, the wireless brand of France Telecom, expects several million customers to be using the mobile version of Windows Live Messenger by 2009.
Pricing for the service was not disclosed, although both companies said it would be reasonable. France Telecom CEO Didier Lombard downplayed concerns that it could affect SMS usage, and, in turn, fees generated from the technology, saying customers will still utilize text messaging for more private conversation.
The agreement is a big win for Microsoft, which gives Windows Live Messenger additional exposure and a leg up over competitors in the mobile space. Although many instant messaging networks including Yahoo and AOL's AIM have clients for wireless devices, the software is often hard to use and has yet to truly catch on.
Both Microsoft and Orange will share the revenues and development costs of the new service. Microsoft is also looking into expanding functionality beyond just chat. As high-speed 3G usage expands, the Redmond company could offer voice over IP services or even video conferencing.
The deal is not exclusive, however, meaning Microsoft could approach other carriers about implementing the mobile version of Windows Live Messenger as well.