Taking A Different Tack, Nimbuzz Chat Startup Partners With Pakistan Operator Mobilink

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Recently we’ve seen a lot of news articles about the potential for chat apps to take over the role of SMS. Analysts Informa recently published research suggesting that 2012 was the tipping point, with nearly 19 billion messages sent globally over chat apps daily, versus 17.6 billion SMS messages.

In 2014 some 21 billion SMS messages are predicted compared with 50 billion app-based messages. And while the user numbers of chat apps are significantly lower right now when set against chat apps (3.5 billion SMS users in 2012, against 586.3 million users of WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger, Viber, Nimbuzz, Apple’s iMessage and KakaoTalk), those ratios are changing. Given that SMS is 20 years old and chat apps have been going for only five years, the trend is on the minds of mobile operators. That is, if they don’t start thinking about the apps and maybe partnering.

Clearly a few apps are trying to be simply disruptive to operators, especially WhatsApp and Viber. Others are taking a different tack. Today Pakistan telecom giant Mobilink announced it is partnering with Nimbuzz, a big messaging player in emerging markets run out of India. Mobilink will now give its 35 million subscribers access to the platform at a minimum flat cost irrespective of the data consumed. The deal mirrors one that India’s Aircel has done with Nimbuzz.

The move means that it will be technically cheaper to use Nimbuzz than other apps. It remains to be seen whether this proves much of an advantage to Nimbuzz or not, but it does provide a significant, though difficult-to-monetize, distribution platform.

The growing user base of these chat applications is affecting SMS revenue for telecom operators in markets like India, Singapore, Indonesia and Pakistan. They need new ideas.

Nimbuzz, whose investors include Mangrove and Naspers, has 150 million users and plans to roll out this model of partnering with telecoms operators.

Vikas Saxena, CEO of Nimbuzz thinks operator partnerships “help them to drive data usage among subscribers but also allow us access to users which we may not have had previously.”

Where this convergence of operators and app startups leads its hard to say. The disruptors are holding a gun to the heads of the operators. Others are offering a way out. But in emerging markets where access to mobile data is still emerging and SMS remains a big staple, this dualistic approach might be the right one to take.