Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Say your love via SMS on Valentine's Day

Tantri Yuliandini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

"Ooh, an SMS!" a colleague exclaimed one night, her face suddenly brightening from the previous after-work gloom when she heard the tell-tale beep of her mobile phone.

It was close to midnight and her phone had been silent for hours, making her feel a little neglected.

How could a simple short message service (SMS) have such an impact on a person's mood and emotions?

"Mobile phones have become so much a part of our everyday lives. Our lives are increasingly revolving around them now," Siemens country manager for mobile phones Robby Darmasetiawan explained in a statement.

Indeed, according to the newest Siemens Mobile Lifestyle Survey, some 62 percent of Indonesians will automatically check their phones for messages when an SMS tone goes off, and 79 percent of Indonesian mobile phone owners feel lost when they are not carrying their phones.

The survey even indicated that 40 percent of mobile phone users experience heightened heart rates every time they hear the SMS tone!

The German mobile phone maker's Lifestyle Survey was conducted by research firm Asia Market Intelligence, which interviewed 1,400 respondents from Indonesia, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It was completed in December 2002 and focused on men and women of between 15 and 29 years of age.

Romance, too, thrived with the new technology. M. Ikhsan, 28, from Depok, for example, said he sent more than 15 amorous SMSs a month to his girlfriend.

"Some things are best expressed directly, while others are better written as an SMS," he explained.

Ikhsan is not the only one. Some 41 percent of Indonesian respondents said they sent "I love you" messages via SMS, ranking the country the second most "romantically expressive" in the region after the Philippines (58 percent), according to the survey.

Even the SMS's limited space for expression -- only about 160 characters per message -- does not daunt the love-struck. On the contrary, Dony, from Setia Budi in South Jakarta, said he liked the spontaneity of SMS compared to other means of communication, such as the traditional love letter or even e-mail.

"It better serves the occasional outbursts of love," he said.

Meanwhile, Terry, 26, from Kebon Sirih, Central Jakarta, observed that romantic SMSs are used more for courting.

"Once you get the girl, the variety of SMSs gets boring. They probably become limited to 'have you eaten yet' and 'be careful on the road'," he said, while confessing to sending an average of three SMSs a day to his girlfriend.

It is not unusual then, for SMS traffic to soar above average on the most romantic day of the year, Valentine's Day.

Agung Bowo Laksono, PT Excelcomindo Pratama's general manager for value added services (VAS) marketing and development, said the company expected at least a 50 percent increase in SMS traffic during Valentine's Day from its 1.8 million subscribers.

This would mean an additional 1.2 million to 1.5 million messages to the average daily SMS traffic of 2.8 million messages. Excelcomindo, holder of the proXL cellular operator brand, recorded 900 million messages in SMS traffic last year, the highest count of 95 million SMSs sent on New Year's Eve, the company said.

The country's newest cellular operator, Indosat M3 (IM3) also has high hopes for Valentine's Day, when they expect more than 1.8 million messages to be transmitted, said the company's general manager for product development, I Made Harta Wijaya.

"During Imlek (Chinese New Year), we generated 1.8 million messages. We expect more on Valentine's Day because it's a more universal (celebration) than Imlek," he explained.

Commencing full operations early last year, to date IM3 has 540,000 subscribers who generate 1.2 million messages a day, he said.

Riding on the craze, both operators have also designed special Valentine's programs for their subscribers.

IM3 has prepared a Valentine Quiz, Valentine Chat, as well as a poem contest with a trip for two to Malaysia for the most romantic poem. The company is also offering special picture message and romantic poem downloads.

Meanwhile, besides a unique Valentine ringtone and picture downloads, proXL also offers its subscribers a chance to send PT Pos Indonesia's electronic Valentine's Day letter (ratron) via SMS.

"Subscribers simply send in details to the number and PT Pos will send a ratron to the destined address," Agung said.

The company also has a Chat 'N Date program, and will send a special romantic reading for subscribers upon request.

As for my colleague, the SMS she received that night turned out not to be from the guy she had been eying for some time, but a message on a planned demonstration outside the House of Representatives compound.

Sighing dramatically, she -- me along with her -- returned to our realm of romantic reveries.