The rise and rise of mobile messaging apps is being fuelled by a variety of factors (cost, convenience, the virality of the network effect, stickers… the list goes on). But in emerging economies an increasing number of carrier tie-ins are also helping WhatsApp and co. to continue ‘killing it’. Such tie-ins typically involve the carrier selling bundles of unlimited access to a messaging services for a set fee — such as this WhatsApp bundle offered by Airtel in Nigeria. In exchange for waiving data costs for the service, telcos get to attract more customers by piggybacking on the popularity of WhatsApp (et al), and drive a new messaging-related revenue stream to replace their declining SMS revenues.
It’s a partnership that many carriers used to exclusively have with BlackBerry. But as BlackBerry’s popularity continues to decline, and alternative mobile messaging platforms have emerged and grown fat with users, there’s no sensible reason for carriers not to diversify these free messaging bundles and get into bed with even more players. And today Philippines carrier Globe Telecom is doing just that. The telco has announced it’s extending a previous bundle it began offering last July, of free access to Viber, to include five more messaging services: Facebook Messenger, Kakao Talk, WhatsApp, WeChat and Line.
The Globe Prepaid GoUNLI30 offer will let customers pay 30 peso ($0.70) to buy one day’s free access to all six OTT (over-the-top) players, plus unlimited texts to all networks, and unlimited calls to other Globe/Touch Mobile users. OTT in this context is the term used to refer to third party messaging app services vs carriers’ own SMS-based messaging services.
All of the OTT services included in the Globe bundle have multiple millions of users apiece — Globe refers to them collectively as “major OTT players” — with Facebook Messenger the relative runt of the group, with around 60 million global downloads, vs kingpin WeChat’s 300 million registered users. (Active monthly usage is a more interesting metric for messaging apps, albeit not one they all report. For an idea of the top of the market, WeChat recently reported its MAU as 190 million.)
What’s especially interesting here is that Globe claims it’s “practically unheard of” for a telco to partner with multiple OTT companies. Indeed, go back a few years and carriers were frequently attempting to block OTT services like Skype, rather than encourage usage. A lot has changed since 2009, however. The success of so many mobile messaging apps in building huge user-bases for one vs carriers’ collectively failure to create popular OTT messaging services of their own. And, from the carrier business point of view, ongoing declines in traditional voice and text revenues necessitating a new approach to data-centric business models.
Messaging startups are increasingly looking like the missing piece of the puzzle in emerging markets. So it seems unlikely that the Globe partnership will remain a multiple OTT outlier for long — which is certainly good news for “major OTT players” who can expect to see their user-bases bolstered by such partnerships. It may also be helpful for local messaging startups in these markets, provided they are able to accrue enough users to get their service on carriers’ radars.
Globe, which reported a total mobile subscriber base of 36.1 million at the end of the first half of this year, told TechCrunch it will be looking for more OTT players to partner with in future — based on what its users are asking for. In other words: if you can build it and make the users come, carriers might come knocking too.