Some of the mobile industry's main players, including BT Cellnet and Vodafone, gathered this week in London to champion the growing benefits and uses of text messaging at the SMS 02 event in London.

The conference focused on making the most of the technologies that are available today rather than those of the future, such as third generation services — UMTS (universal mobile telecommunications service), for example.

Mobile operator Vodafone showed off its new m-pay service, due to be launched in March. Vodafone customers will be able to charge online purchases, as long as they're under a fiver, to their mobile phones, thus avoiding credit card transaction charges.

"Customers incur charges for debit and credit card transactions for small payments," said Khalid Khan for Vodafone. "Not only that but sometimes people may not have their card with them when they need to buy something. Everyone we have spoken to is open to any scheme which makes online shopping as hassle-free as possible and we believe this is it."

But a similar service, called Paybox, already exists, under which customers are not tied to one network. Paybox charges customers £14.99 a year and already has around 500,000 subscribers.

"There are other services, but ours is free and that's key," countered Khan.

Vodafone said it has signed up around 50 websites already, including Arsenal football club, where customers will be able to watch game highlights and then charge the cost directly to their mobile phone.

Also at the event was Mobile services firm Pollen, launching its 'location-specific SMS chat service'. The pay-for consumer service, which works via top-up payment cards, lets people chat in real time with other people in a bar or club.

"Location specific is the way forward. It means a landlord could conduct a pub quiz by sending questions out to his customers without disturbing those people that don’t want to play," said Magnus Wood, marketing director for Pollen.

Mamjam is the company’s 'flirting service', where people can submit text messages, which the system will then set up with other users which match their description and offer them the opportunity to chat. "It's a bit of fun and very compelling," added Wood.

For the business user, Link 77 launched its 'reverse-charge marketing service'. In simple terms this lets businesses send information about special offers and events to their customers via SMS messages.

"The company lets its customers know about this service and directs them to our website. Once they sign up they will be sent monthly or weekly messages from that company," said Simon Lutrell, the company's chief executive.

The messages will be charged at the local rate and the user can opt out of the service at any time, which sounds a little like spam, or junk mail.

But Lutrell disagrees. "It's not spamming because messages are only sent if the customer signs up and cancelling is easy," he said. "It's an excellent way for companies to target their customers directly."

For more information on today's exhibitors visit