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Over the top: Internet chat via apps will double text messages sent in 2013

Wireless carriers seen as trying to adapt

If you would rather send a quick message over an Internet chat app like iMessage than via text, you are not alone.

In 2013, the number of messages sent via chat app will hit 41 billion per day, more than double the number of text messages sent globally, according to data from Informa shared with the Financial Times (Registration required). London-based Informa didn't respond to a request for comment.

Wireless carriers have noticed the trend to using chat apps for a while, and analyst firms started reporting the tipping point in favor of chat apps at the start of 2013. Informa estimates text messages will generate more than $120 billion in revenue for wireless carriers in 2013, but didn't provide a similar number for chat apps.

The trend toward reduced texting revenues has been felt especially in Spain, the Netherlands and South Korea, according to Informa, but the trend is somewhat harder to define in the U.S., analysts said. That's because some operators, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, are giving away free texting -- along with voice -- as part of shared data plans. At the same time, other U.S. carriers, like Sprint and T-Mobile USA, are pushing unlimited data plans, so that relying on a data connection for a chat app won't add any cost.

Chat apps are often called a type of "over the top" service that doesn't benefit a wireless carrier directly, at least as much as texting might.

Chat apps are seen by analysts as growing in popularity because of their flexibility. A chat app like BlackBerry Messenger -- which is especially popular in Europe -- can easily be converted with a touch or two to an audio or video call with the new Z10 smartphone and the coming Q10 on BlackBerry 10.

Other popular chat apps are Apple's iMessage or Facebook's Chat Heads. The latter can easily be reached with an account on Facebook, which has nearly 700 million regular mobile users.

Text messages, over the Short Message Service, operate over a separate network channel from a data channel used by chat apps. A single SMS is also restricted in length to 140 characters.

Internet chat app messages also have the flexibility of running over multiple platforms so that a desktop computer user can communicate with a smartphone or tablet user.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile apps in Computerworld's Mobile Apps Topic Center.


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