Explosion of smartphone messaging services such as Apple’s iMessage, RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger and Facebook Messenger have managed in just a few years to slash away at the important revenue that mobile phone companies get from text messaging.
But it is the cross-platform WhatsApp application that is spreading so quickly to the detriment of mobile phone companies. Nowadays, many people log on to Facebook and send birthday’s wishes, Valentine messages and Christmas greetings.
Years back, options were limited; call or text. Worse still, analysts say there is no end in sight to the gradual financial loss.
The expansion of the broadband internet connection and wide availability of wifi-hot spots has created a fertile environment for communication via internet where SIM card-based messaging is not necessary.
Needless to say, mobile companies are not happy at the flood of free messaging services piggybacking on their networks. Paid texting, or SMS, has been a cash cow for phone companies which use minimal network capacity.
Take WhatsApp application for example. It is a mobile messenger application that allows you to send text or media to friends who also use the application, regardless of them being on a BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia or Android – all made possible via the internet.
WhatsApp is used by millions of people across the world, as it functions by simply downloading the application and syncs it with contacts in the contact list that also have the app.
After the contacts are synced, users can chat, share pictures, audio, location and videos with their peers who are on their WhatsApp contact list.
All you need to do is download the software from your mobile device’s app store and have a working internet connection via Wi-Fi or through your mobile service provider.
WhatsApp uses the same data plan that you use for web browsing or e-mail, so there is no additional cost to message and stay in touch with your friends.
Another absolutely awesome feature that WhatsApp allows is for you to send your location through Google Maps to whoever you’re messaging. Need a quick way to tell people where you are? Just hit the send location button.
WhatsApp requires little to no setup. Just having the application installed to your device is all you need. It renders user accounts based on their mobile phone numbers, so you won’t even need to search for your contacts at all.
The software automatically imports everyone within your contact list who uses the application and places them as a contact that you can start talking to whenever you want.
Aside from free SMS, WhatsApp also allows you to exchange an unlimited amount of images and media files through simple data transfer over the internet. Sharing media is as simple as pressing two buttons and waiting for your contact to accept.
Though perhaps best known for its video chat, Skype also offers voice and conference calling to mobiles and landlines, as well as texting. The idea is if you make calls locally or internationally through Voice over Internet (VoIP), you only need access to the internet and have a VoIP service provider.
As compared to paying cell phone calling rates, only paying your VoIP service provider costs a lot cheaper because Wi-Fi is essentially free when you go to a public hotspot anyway.
Mobile service providers must be getting concerned for a good reason. On one side because they are losing revenue, and on the other because they are losing the bigger game.
WhatsApp is grabbing their customers by offering them cheap, open doors to all their friends, in the same way that Facebook and other social networks are.
Sam Wambugu is a monitoring and evaluation specialist. Samwambugu@gmail.com