WhatsApp, Apple's iMessage, BlackBerry's Messenger and other popular, free mobile "chat apps" that enable users of the same app to communicate for free, have pushed over-the-top (OTT) messaging numbers ahead of peer-to-peer (P2P) Short Message Service (SMS) numbers for the first time.
Informa Telecoms & Media analyst Pamela Clark-Dickson wrote in an April 29 blog post that in 2012, an average of 19.1 billion OTT messages were being sent per day, compared with an average 17.6 billion SMS texts.
By the end of 2013, the research firm expects 41 billion OTT messages to be sent every day, compared with an average 19.5 billion SMS texts.
While currently there are far more SMS users, said Clark-Dickson, there are far more OTT messages being sent.
"There were about 3.5 billion P2P SMS users in 2012, according to Informa, compared with about 586.3 million users of OTT messaging," wrote Clark-Dickson. "Each OTT user sent an average of 32.6 OTT messages a day, compared with just five SMS messages per day per P2P SMS user, meaning that OTT-messaging users are sending more than six times as many messages as P2P SMS users do."
In December, SMS passed a 20-year milestone—it was Dec. 3, 1992, that a Sema Group engineer sent the first SMS, texting "Merry Christmas" to a Vodafone employee. By contrast, BlackBerry's popular Messenger app was launched in 2007, meaning it took OTT messaging apps just a quarter of the time to meet and then pass SMS figures.
Though SMS and OTT are used in different ways by subscribers, Informa finds a comparison between the two relevant, since use of the latter is affecting mobile operators' revenues from the former. In Spain, for example, Informa cites an SMS revenue drop from $1.4 billion in 2007 to $992 million in 2011.
Still, SMS is unlikely to disappear any time soon, for three reasons, says Clark-Dickson.
"The adoption and use of OTT-messaging apps is far from universal; although there are multiple OTT-messaging "communities" within which mobile users can message each other for free, OTT-messaging users typically use SMS when communicating with non-OTT users; and SMS is starting to hit its stride in the enterprise mobile messaging market," she wrote.
In markets where BlackBerry use is nearly ubiquitous, the free Messenger app is a very mainstream communication method.
"Every cab in Jakarta has a BBM pin on the door," BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins told The Telegraph last summer.
Throughout April, rumors swirled that Google was negotiating to buy WhatsApp—for as much as $1 billion—which would give it Apple's equivalent of iMessage.
But it's the wireless carriers that will most have to adjust to the OTT trend.
"The cash cow is dying," Neelie Kroes, the European Commission's vice president, responsible for its digital agenda, Tweeted April 29 in response to the report. "Time for telcos to wake up and smell the data coffee."