Mobile messaging and voice apps that are driving communication globally should be regulated just like telecom firms are regulated, states Bharti Airtel Joint MD and CEO (India operations), Gopal Vittal. He is of the opinion that messaging apps like WhatsApp, Line, Skype should be brought under some regulations and jurisdiction.
“I think we need a framework by which these companies are subjected to similar jurisdiction… because that will benefit everybody concerned,” added Vittal.
He further stated that a debate should happen over formulating a framework on such messaging apps that operate outside regulations and jurisdiction.
Are the operators finally feeling the heat from the messaging apps that are eating into their revenues?
A latest report from Ovum predicted that the shares of messaging apps are growing to go big and hit the telecos severely. According to a study, global telecom companies will lose $386 billion between 2012 and 2018 from customers using over-the-top VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) solutions such as Skype and Microsoft Lync. These losses will be mostly from international call revenues and roaming services. The companies lost $32.5 billion in texting fees in 2013 and the figure is projected to reach $54 billion by 2016.
Subsequently, last week the tech world witnessed one of the biggest acquisitions of recent times in the messaging world. Facebook acquired the world’s most popular messaging app WhatsApp for $19 billion.
While Indian telcos have gone on record saying that such acquisitions don’t impact their business but messaging apps are growing aggressively in the country. WhatsApp recently announced that it has more than 40M active users in India with Founder Jan Koum acknowledging India to be a big market for WhatsApp at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona. He expects India numbers to hit 100M by end of 2014. In fact WhatsApp is now jumping into voice services at a very low cost.
Stiff competition to the likes of Bharti Airtel?
Vittal shrugged the competition and added, “I think there are already lots of applications that are offering voice free, so it is nothing new. I think many of these applications are going to be important because at the end of the day they grow our data revenues as well.”
Other messaging apps like Line, WeChat, Viber, Hike, etc. have been growing their presence in the country.
Voice calls and text messages (SMS) comprise about 75 percent of the revenues of telecom operators in India. This is going to change soon since smartphone penetration in the country has been sky rocketing and not only do messaging apps provide ease of communication but they are also cheaper.
Though Vittal has not stated what regulations should be applied on messaging apps, he has started a new debate and it would be interesting to see if other operators join his voice.