Instant messaging applications for mobile devices, such as BlackBerry Messenger, are becoming so popular that use of text messages by 15-24 year olds will fall by a fifth in many large markets including the UK, analysts predict.
Mobile Youth, a consultancy, forecasts that text, or SMS, volumes will drop by 20 per cent in the next two years in regions including the UK, Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil, where BBM is particularly popular among teenagers and students.
“We’ve seen SMS usage fall among young people and the main driver is BlackBerry,” said Graham Brown, director at Mobile Youth.
BBM usage has exploded in many countries in recent years, with volumes increasing 500 per cent.
More than 39m people use BBM, according to Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, although it is yet to take off significantly in the US.
Text messaging has been a cash cow for mobile operators in recent years but instant messaging services allow unlimited mobile chat without needing to pay for each transmission.
BBM is free on BlackBerry devices, even for “pay and go” users with no monthly contract, while other smartphone apps such as Beluga and WhatsApp use minimal amounts of data, and charge a small one-off fee.
“Talking to some of the operators, BBM has certainly had an impact on their SMS revenue,” said Pete Cunningham, senior analyst at Canalys.
Richard Windsor, mobile analyst at Nomura, has predicted that instant messaging clients could hit SMS, although he has not seen any impact yet.
“Once it [SMS] starts to decline, I think it could continue to decline until it hits zero,” he said.
Operators could stand to benefit in some ways from instant messaging because BBM used their network more efficiently than SMS, saving operating costs, said RIM. BlackBerry users can now also use BBM to donate airtime and apps to friends or children.
Other social networking services, such as Facebook and Twitter, have also displaced text messaging but require a data plan to use. Instant messaging could be a way to encourage young people to upgrade to more expensive monthly payments, Mr Brown said.