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Messaging apps may eat phone calls

columns Updated: Sep 22, 2014 01:40 IST
N Madhavan

At the end of the last quarter, India had 71 million broadband subscribers, of which 55 million were using mobile devices. This in a nation of 919 million wireless mobile users. Clearly, data plans are only just taking off in India.

Initiatives like the Firefox OS smartphone (Rs 2,000) and the Google-led Android One (Rs 6,000) launched recently are set to make smartphones increasingly affordable. Data plans will grow in tandem. India’s data subscriber population is estimated by Morgan Stanley to grow 25% a year and cross 500 million by 2018.

And the biggest casualty of all that in the coming days could be good old phone calls.

Many of us have already seen how Skype has significantly ate into international calls. Mobile messaging service WhatsApp has more than 50 million users in India already, while Facebook, which owns it, has more than 115 million. But as of now, it only offers text, video and voice messages — not calls.

WhatsApp’s competitors are now getting aggressive. Hike offers offline chats to help young users short of data plan budgets to link with friends. Viber allows free calls to other Viber users and also has a desktop app . WeChat offers a voice chat service.

LINE messenger has a premium service called LINE Call for low-cost calls directly to mobile phones and landlines in India and elsewhere.

WhatsApp and its sibling, Facebook Messenger are bound to launch matching services or stand to lose the game. So I would expect free or ultra-cheap calls done through messenger services to take off big-time in 2015.