Almost half of consumers with smartphones use instant or over-the-top messaging services

More than 45% of customers with a smartphone use some form of instant messaging (IM) or over-the-top (OTT) messaging app in addition to (and in some cases instead of) traditional text messaging (SMS), according to a new report examining consumer smartphone voice and messaging trends from Analysys Mason. In addition, 20% of consumers use a VoIP app, and 20% of those consumers use it more than traditional voice services.

The report, Consumer smartphone usage: voice and messaging trends, is the last of four in Analysys Mason’s Consumer smartphone usage series. The reports are based on data derived from Arbitron Mobile’s passive on-device monitoring app, which monitored more than 1000 smartphone users (‘panellists’) in France, Germany, Spain, the UK and the USA. The report describes the day-to-day ‘realities’ of how people use their smartphones, particularly around data generation, disruptive services, app usage and mobile content integration.

The report shows that WhatsApp Messenger is the first large-scale cross-platform messaging app; nearly 20% of the panellists used it during the two-month observation period. However, OTT communication apps have succeeded in replacing operator services in only a small proportion of cases; only 1.7% of the panel used IM/OTT messaging without using SMS, but 97% of panellists used SMS.

“The relative fragmentation of the messaging market (compared to, for example, Skype’s dominance of the VoIP market) will continue to hinder full substitution,” explained Stephen Sale, co-author of the report and Lead Analyst for Analysys Mason’s Voice and Messaging research programme. “However, while the messaging market is fragmented, the collective effect is having an impact on SMS usage; the number of text messages sent per active user is already declining in some Western countries.”

Skype continues to dominate the VoIP market; 79% of VoIP users on the panel used the service (16% of all panellists), making it the default VoIP provider. The main challengers to Skype are Viber, fring and Google Talk, as used by 5%, 0.8% and 0.6% of panellists respectively.

Alarmingly for operators, some smartphone users are beginning to use VoIP apps as their primary voice service; approximately 20% of VoIP users (or 4% of the panellists) used mobile VoIP more than traditional voice services.

“As more people use VoIP as their primary voice service, the danger for mobile operators is that they become relegated to providing secondary voice services, picking up the 30% or 40% of call traffic generated by users when contacting people who are outside their core calling circle,” added Sale. “If this occurs widely, operators’ roles will be marginalised.”

The report also highlights that based on a country-by-country comparison, the price of mobile operators’ core services will affect the rate of adoption of OTT services. For example, the historically high cost of SMS and voice services in Spain has stimulated consumers to use OTT messaging and mobile VoIP services to a much higher extent than in other countries. A third of panellists in Spain used mobile VoIP and 80% used IM or OTT messaging.

Mobile VoIP services were much more popular among men (21%) than women (16%). However, this is the only communciations platform that is more popular with males than females – social networking apps were used by 8% more women than men, email was used by 4% more women and 2% more women made voice calls.

Segmenting the users by age, the report also found that mobile VoIP apps have universal appeal, whereas other apps, such as Facebook or WhatsApp Messenger, do not. The percentage of those who use mobile VoIP apps only varied by 3 percentage points across every age category – primarily because voice is an established medium, and Skype is recognised as an inter-generational communications medium on the desktop PC. By contrast, more than 80% of smartphone users aged from 18 to 24 used the Facebook mobile app, compared with 51% of those aged 45 or over. The trend is similar for WhatsApp Messenger – most of its users are aged under 35.

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