Global carriers fight back against social messaging apps

Some of the world’s largest carriers are working together to launch their own IP-based messaging system for mobile phones, in a bid to counter apps like WhatsApp.

The GSMA-developed Rich Communications Services specification has attracted interest from carriers including AT&T, Bell Mobility, Bharti Airtel, Deutsche Telekom, KPN, KT, LG U+, France Telecom-Orange, Orascom Telecom, Rogers Communications, SFR, SK Telecom, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, TeliaSonera, Telus, Verizon and Vodafone.

The popularity of smartphones has challenged the traditional voice and text-based contracts offered by operators. Users are now increasingly opting for mobile data services as their main means of communication, through both instant messaging services like WhatsApp, and email.

Analyst firm, Ovum, recently estimated that increasing use of IP-based social messaging services cost operators $8.7 billion in lost SMS revenues in 2010, and $13.9 billion in 2011. This amounted to a 6% decline of total messaging revenue in 2010 and 9% in 2011 and the trend is expected to increase as the popularity of social messaging continues to grow.

Despite this Neha Dharia, consumer analyst at Ovum and author of the report, said that operators are in a good position to take advantage of the opportunity social messaging presents:

“Operators are in a position of strength because they control the entire messaging structure through their access to the user’s phone number and usage data. The established billing relationship is a great advantage, as is the fact that operators control to a great extent the services to which the user is exposed.”

The service will be launched through the Joyn brand and comes as a result of Rich Communication Suite technology, which was established two years ago to create an industry standard for mobile communication. Rich Communications software will be embedded within basic phone software, with agreements having been reached with major phone makers including RIM, ZTE, Huawei and Samsung.

“There is clear consumer demand for enriched messaging and voice services, and Rich Communications provides mobile network operators with solutions to address these consumer needs, as well as paving the way for future, innovative IP-based voice and messaging services," said Anne Bouverot, director general, GSMA.

The availability of Joyn to smartphone users without the need to download an app may give it an advantage over WhatsApp. However, it may be too little too late when it comes to iPhone users who already have a similar embedded social messaging service installed through iMessage.

The first launch is expected to be in Spain, by the summer of 2012, following interoperability trials between the three major Spanish operators, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone. Operators in France, Germany, Italy and Korea have also committed to commercial launches in 2012.

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