WhatsApp sending important signals to telecoms

Saturday May 11 2013


Short Messaging Service, popularly known as SMS, was introduced to make use of the spare telecom capabilities eventually turning into a major source of revenue for mobile service operators. All that is now changing.

WhatsApp, a free messaging app, has been growing in popularity all over the world and in some countries, telecom companies are now paying attention. And for good reasons – this app has more users than Twitter and carries more messages than the one-billion-users Facebook.

Last year, for example, almost 19 billion messages were sent globally every day using chat apps, mainly using WhatsApp, compared to 17.6 billion SMS messages.

WhatsApp sends messages through an Internet data connection. Because it uses the same Internet data that one uses for email and web browsing, there is no additional cost to messaging. In addition to basic messaging, WhatsApp users can create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages. You can also share your location.

WhatsApp is one of the first cross-platform mobile messaging apps that eventually formed a real alternative to BlackBerry Messenger. It works across networks and across Blackberry, Windows Phone, iOS, Android, Symbian and others. It’s really simple and real-time. WhatsApp is available on all major smartphone platforms and even some Symbian-based devices.

One of the best things about using WhatsApp is that it works right out of the box. You can download the app, verify your phone number in a single step and start chatting right away with your contacts who are using WhatsApp.

Another popular feature on WhatsApp is group chatting. You can talk to a number of people by simply creating a group chat room. You get notifications when your messages are delivered and in case the recipient is offline, the message is delivered when they get connected again. What users love about the app is that it doesn’t consume a lot of battery power and it does not hog a lot of bandwidth.

One big advantage WhatsApp has is extra information for every user’s contacts: status, picture, knowing when they were last available, and if they received your message.
350 million users

On last count, WhatsApp was handling 20 billion messages per day. Depending on who’s estimating, it has anywhere between 200 and 350 million users around the world. That number is likely to increase given the number of smartphones being sold each year.

Although WhatsApp is seen as more of an Internet-based threat to text messaging than as a competitor to social networks, the figures represent major milestones for a service that was only introduced three years ago.

Analysts argue that WhatsApp messenger is gradually eating into the income of mobile operators just like what Skype did to international calling on landlines. Using Internet connections, people now call any part of the world at very low or no charges at all.

Even in Kenya where many wouldn’t be able to afford high speed Internet, WhatsApp usage is growing fast, especially among young users.

Despite its popularity, WhatsApp’s record on privacy and security has come under fire. Earlier this year, Canadian and Dutch authorities accused the company of violating international privacy laws because it required users to upload their entire phone book contact lists – whether or not those contacts use the app.

It indiscriminately retains all that information, meaning millions of non-consenting, non-users have had their data given up over the years.

But these fears have not stopped users from downloading and using the app. So if you haven’t hooked up with friends on WhatsApp, you could soon be.

Sam Wambugu is a monitoring and evaluation specialist. Email: [email protected]