Two Malaysian operators, Digi and Maxis, have announced the availability of interconnected mobile instant messaging (IM) services.

Meanwhile, the country’s third operator, Celcom, is thought to be on the brink of launching its own IM service. When that happens Malaysia will be the first country in the world to have full IM interconnect between carriers.

Digi and Maxis are using a platform provided by messaging firm Colibria, while Celcom is using a rival system. Colibria’s EVP marketing Matt Hooper spoke to about the launch.

“Malaysia is a very compelling marketplace for operator IM because it is a very mobile hungry environment. It has the second highest penetration in Asia. These guys have gone from having 2 million mobile subscribers in the country in 1998 to having 22 million today. Broadband penetration is around 15 per cent. So compare that to the 60 per cent penetration rate in some markets in Western Europe, there is a very strong case for launching operator-based IM in the first instance.”

According to Hooper, the billing models being used by Digi and Maxis are “pretty sophisticated”. Both firms are using Colibria’s subscription management server to provide time-based subscription packages for the end user. Customers are also being given the option of buying a token that enables the service to be used for a certain period.

Last week the Mobile Data Association reported that over 1 billion SMS are sent every week in the UK alone. That figure is rising at a steady rate, while margins are moving in the opposite direction. As with voice, the messaging environment has become commoditised and is getting tougher for carriers everywhere.

“SMS has been the greatest success story for mobile data,” said Hooper. “But the key point is that the growth rates are flattening, the price pressure is starting to have a commoditisation effect on SMS. And it’s about where the growth is going to come from. The key point is IM is not trying to compete with SMS, but it’s about it coexisting in the first instance,” he said.