Monday, April 29, 2013

Third-party chat clients out-message texting for the first time

For some time, we've discussed how text messaging is a cash cow for wireless carriers. The message itself rides on top of the control channel, so it basically costs nothing for the carrier. What then, of a new report issued Monday that said that data-based messaging systems -- think WhatsApp, Apple's iMessage, Nimbuzz or others -- have overtaken text messages in terms of volume.

Research firm Informa announced on Monday that its research showed that six of the most popular mobile chat applications, including WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, Viber, Nimbuzz, Apple's iMessage, and KakaoTalk, averaged nearly 19 billion messages sent and received daily -- on a global basis -- in 2012. Informa likewise estimated that 17.6 billion text messages were sent globally, each day, as well.

Informa's research was commissioned by the Financial Times.

Informa estimated that by 2014, the gap between chat applications and SMS messages will widen considerably, with 21 billion text messages seen daily, vs. nearly 50 billion app-based messages. The good news is that 21 billion SMS messages is still higher than 2012. The bad news is obvious.

The bad news isn't even complete. There are plenty of other third-party chat applications, which were not included in Informa's study. Examples include Trillian, which works with desktop chat services such as AIM, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, and others, and Facebook Messenger.

The negative to all these is that none of them are compatible with each other. You can't install WhatsApp and chat to someone on Nimbuzz. You can, of course, use Trillian and chat with someone on IMO, since both of those clients work with existing third-party services.

In addition, Apple's iMessage app will use SMS if necessary -- in order words, if the recipient is not an iMessage user. Google Voice can send a text message -- using the data channel - from an app, as well.

In addition, these apps all use data for message transfer. As noted earlier, text messages ride on top of the control channel. They don't require a data plan. That signal is more tenuous than the control channel.

It's for that reason that emergency service personnel have previously told the public that the best method of communication after -- or during -- an emergency, is SMS, not voice calling and definitely not data calls (such as using a data-based app like these chat clients).

The question is, do carriers lose money on these deals. The short answer is yes. However, carriers can build packages around third-party apps. As an example, WhatsApp has partnerships with the carriers RCom and 3 Hong Kong, which sell flat-rate bundles specifically for WhatsApp use while at home or roaming.

Indeed, it's not a net neutral-type of program, but it's a way for carriers to make up for the lost revenue from fewer text messages.

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