Group messaging – or so-called over-the-top (OTT) messaging – apps have been featured a lot in the news of late, with big plans hailing from China’s Weixin rebranding as WeChat in order to go global, to WhatsApp standing accused of munching into the revenue pies of operators . It is pretty evident that these messaging apps have become the ultimate nemesis of operators across the globe, redefining the way we communicate in text on our phones.
In the light of these events, it seems pretty timely for eBuddy XMS to roll out its iMessage-like feature this upcoming summer, which will be called eBuddy XMS-SMS. It’ll work sort of like the other OTT messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Line. Difference is, besides allowing users to send ‘XMS’ messages (ie: group messages using a 2G or 3G connection), they can also send and receive conventional SMS messages from within the app. It works like Apple’s iMessage, giving users a seamless experience between sending XMS as well as SMS messages within one single app.
When we reached out to Jonie Oosteven, director of strategic partnerships at eBuddy, for his thoughts about WhatsApp’s defense against the accusations, he said:
Brian Acton of WhatsApp is partially right that WhatsApp might stimulate data usage, but WhatsApp is also pushing operators in the “bit-pipe” mode, meaning that operators will become like providers of a commodity like electricity, without any added value. A lot of operators have the strategy to play a more important role in the value chain and want to provide more value-added services (and get more margin and create better customer lock-ins) than just providing data access.
In fact, XMS-SMS could be used by telcos to counteract the influence of the current batch of OTT messaging apps in the market and help maintain SMS revenues for operators. The eBuddy product will be different from other OTT messaging apps because it includes the sending and receiving of SMS messages, which gives the operator the possibility to sell a specific messaging bundle that includes both data and SMS.
A Feature for Feature-Phones
It caters not just to smartphone users, but also to feature-phone users. So, for example, when massive amounts of messages are being exchanged in a group chat consisting of friends on smartphones and feature-phones, the latter can still receive and reply via SMS when they’re offline. It might drive up the SMS revenues of operators pretty significantly, because people would be more inclined to take part in these conversations.
How will you tell if someone is using the XMS app or not? According to Jonie, there will be one single contact list in the app that combines both XMS as well as other phone contacts you have. For those XMS contacts, they will be identified by a XMS logo behind their names, so when you send the message it will use your data network. Likewise, non-XMS contacts will have an operator logo behind their names, so when you send a message across the GSM network will be used.
At present, there are around 250 million eBuddy chat users worldwide, with four million monthly active users (MAU) in India and two million MAUs in Indonesia. For a start, the team at eBuddy is first targeting Indonesia and India to roll out this XMS-SMS service. In fact, this service has been introduced at the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona earlier this year, and has garnered much interest from operators – especially from those in emerging markets. Their first operator launch will be later this year in Indonesia. They are also currently in talks with other operators in other APAC countries, as well as in the Middle East and across Latin America.
Won’t eBuddy be afraid that the other mobile messaging apps would replicate its model? Jonie further explains that this service is another ball game altogether. This service requires a connection with the SMS router, and is not something that developers can easily copy and roll out. This would mean they would need to work together with mobile telcos – which eBuddy has already been doing, giving it the first-mover advantage.
Honestly, at the moment, I am communicating with most of my friends over WhatsApp, and my China friends over Weixin. Depending on whether my friends are willing to switch over, if not I’m pretty comfortable with these 2 platforms. I actually also fear if I do not have internet connection and if I were to send a normal SMS overseas to and fro, I might just end up with a crazy high bill.
It might be a boon to telcos, but might not necessarily be good for individuals. Would you guys ditch your current messaging platforms for this?