WhatsApp et al might be cutting into SMS volumes, but think what they're doing for data revenues...
This week, the media was all over the report from Informa, which revealed that SMS had been surrounded in a piss-stained alley by WhatsApp, BBM, Viber and a bunch of other OTT nutters and had 160 characters kicked out of it.
The study said almost 19 billion text messages were sent per day using OTT messaging apps in 2012, compared with only 17.6 billion SMS texts – and that the OTT number will more than double to 41 billion per day this year.
For our dear friend text and his loving parents Mr and Mrs Operator, it all seemed very :-( and not at all lol.
But was it though?
It's an easy assumption to make that the operators are hobbled by the rise of OTT voice and messaging apps.
I don't think it's as simple as that.
First off, let's be clear about the different ways people use SMS and, say, WhatsApp. Texts are mostly sent for three reasons: to set up a hotel assignation with somebody else's spouse; to avoid actually speaking to a family member; to terminate an unwanted horoscope alert subscription.
This activity is relatively sparing – especially as it's usually done while driving a heavy goods vehicle.
WhatsApp messages, on the other hand, typically deal with the relative attractiveness of celebrities or friends. For this reason, the average 15 year old girl sends hundreds of them every day.
So you can see how this skews the numbers.
I suspect that nearly everyone uses SMS, but it's still a minority that uses OTT apps. For this reason, the profit margin on an individual SMS is surely huge.
It's no secret that operators make an absolute fortune from text. The cost to transmit them is negligible, so even though unlimited bundles are not unusual, the profits are still staggering.
In fact, a report last year (admittedly looking at the US, where text tarriffs tend to skew higher) calculated that a single SMS costs the equivalent of $383,000 per gigabyte based on five cents for a message.
Indeed, what many of this week's reports preferred to bury was the fact that Informa predicted SMS revenue would grow from $115 billion last year to $127 billion by 2016.
That's not such a good story as 'WhatsApp kills SMS'.
But surely the most salient point here is that all those OTT apps are driving the consumption of data. Users are far more likely to attach pics (of themselves gurning) in BBM or videos (of themselves gurning) in SnapChat than they are to attempt the North-Face-Of-The-Eiger challenge of sending an MMS.
These rich messages cost money both to the sender and the recipient, and they can't all be done via wi-fi.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I've no doubt the operators despise the OTT lot. It's why they've responded with cat-like agility, taking projects like the Skype-killing rich messaging protocol Joyn from conception to almost-launch in a mere five years.
Still, I'll stick my neck out here and predict that Joyn won't last and that operators will probably do the usual thing of fearing, then accommodating and finally copulating with their OTT foes as they move inexorably towards utility status.
Not that there's anything wrong with being a utility. The provision of fast, reliable, mobile data is a fucking amazing business to be in. Connectivity is something everyone will pay for until mankind leaves the earth to colonise new star systems.
And maybe beyond. Astronauts will need some way to send friends back on earth videos of weightless cats.