What’s up with WhatsApp for Mobile Operators?
The most popular messaging app that people use is WhatsApp, with 800 million active monthly users worldwide. Acquired by Facebook in February 2014 for $19 billion, WhatsApp has recently added free voice calling to its service. With this strategic move, the company is going aggressively after competitors such as Skype and Apple’s FaceTime that are also providing OTT (Over-The-Top) applications.
Since Allot supports and identifies WhatsApp calling, let’s have a quick look at what we detected during the first week after the WhatsApp voice launch (based on data from a Tier-1 mobile operator).
- Total WhatsApp traffic increased by 5% during the first week (March 26 – April 2, 2015)
- Total WhatsApp traffic during that week included:
- WhatsApp file transfers (photos, videos, links, documents) that took up most of the traffic with 76%
- WhatsApp Messaging that took up 19%
- WhatsApp Voice that took up 5%
- If we look at WhatsApp Messaging and WhatsApp Voice traffic only (excluding WhatsApp File Transfer), we see that WhatsApp voice accounted for 20% of traffic volume.
It looks like WhatsApp is trying to break into the OTT voice market, a move that made waves especially in the Indian market with its 70 million monthly WhatsApp users. Indian users of the calling option were not pleased, since bandwidth constraints kept the experience from being smooth. This is a common problem with “greedy” applications (Read our blogpost “When facing “greedy” applications – who do you call?” to learn more).
A few telecom operators had planned to charge separately for internet-based voice calls provided by the likes of Skype and WhatsApp and Viber, since zero rating would impact their revenue streams. Their worries are legitimate – OTT messaging subscribers have grown to more than one billion in less than five years globally. As a result, non-data revenues (SMS and other services) of telecom players have been declining.
The role of operators around the globe has changed dramatically – they are now service providers delivering the Digital Experience anytime, anywhere – for work and play. This means that they are now offering highly personalized service plans including access to video, music, cloud storage and social media apps of third-party content providers. SPs are in a unique position to deliver the seamless experience that their users want by leveraging their own unique capabilities: (1) enabling access, (2) shaping the user experience, and (3) tracking & analyzing application usage. This, combined with strategic partnerships with content providers, is a success formula for all parties involved.
This trend toward application-centric plans has already started. As stated in Allot’s MobileTrends Charging Report H1, 2014, there has been a measurable rise in creative ecosystem partnerships between service providers and content providers. An estimated 85% of operators are leveraging OTT apps, since application-centric plans show higher Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) and lower churn.
WhatsApp might become an even bigger problem for operators in the near future once Facebook will add video calling to it. As we have seen with Snapchat when it introduced its HD video chat, the bandwidth usage of such an app soars. For operators, this could make WhatsApp one of the top 10 applications ranked by bandwidth usage.
For now, operators can rely on Allot ClearSee actionable network analytics to track abnormal moves in applications network activity or bandwidth due to e.g., WhatsApp voice, and proactively respond to those changes. This enables them to maintain user experience and plan their networks. It also prevents frustrated users calling their care centers.