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StarHub, SingTel to take on messaging apps with own platforms

StarHub will launch an interoperable platform for users to exchange content, while SingTel is developing own apps, as they attempt to regain lost ground against popular OTT services such as WhatsApp and Viber.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Two out of the three Singapore telcos are going heads on against popular messaging apps, and have plans to develop their own WhatsApp-like applications and partner app developers.

According to Today news site on Monday, SingTel and StarHub are developing their own platforms amid a decline in SMS usage driven by over-the-top (OTT) players like WhatsApp, Viber and Nimbuzz.

StarHub and SingTel plan to launch their own services to take on messaging apps like WhatsApp.

StarHub is working with its alliance partner Vodafone to launch an interoperable service in the second half of this year, the news site noted. With just one platform, users can make video calls, share photos or music without the need to download different applications.

"Imagine instant messaging, making voice calls over Internet Protocol (IP), file sharing and much more with anyone in your mobile address book without the need to download different mobile apps or create multiple log in accounts," Chan Kin Hung, senior vice president of personal solutions at StarHub, said in the report. 

Such a service, called Rich Communication Services, has gained traction in Europe, Chan said, adding that even though the use of text messages has decreased, not everyone installs the various apps on their smartphones.  The SMS was developed two decades ago, and is still the most common form of text communication as there is no need for parties to download an app to make it work, he explained.

There is hence the need to "explore innovative ways to close the gap between over-the-top (OTT) services and SMS", to develop a ubiquitous communication platform with multiple functions.

SingTel too, is planning to launch its own apps in the coming months, to "shape the app market". However, it requires a "total strategy" in terms of apps and content, handsets, network enhancements, price plans and customer experiences," Johan Buse, SingTel's vice president of consumer marketing, said in the report.

Singapore's third and smallest telco M1, however, will be refocusing on deriving revenue from traditional telecommunications or data connections instead of taking moves to develop its content.

"Rather than telcos developing their own Internet-based messaging apps to compete, we believe app developers and owners will work with the telcos in future to ensure their users have access to their applications in an efficient and affordable manner," an M1 spokesperson told the news publication.

According to the report, latest statistics from Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) showed the volume of SMSes falling to 1.78 billion in December 2012, a 22 percent decrease from 2.3 billion a year ago. 

Consumers have mostly negative reactions to SingTel's and StarHub's plans to take on popular messaging apps.

On a HardwareZone forum, members such as "maxieb" and "Xlusionist" remarked the telcos should focus on improving their 3G and 4G services instead of "wasting time and resources" on such measures. Another member "haoren" said he did not "see a need" to use their apps and services instead of WhatsApp.

Industry observers previously told ZDNet Asia amid fast growth and heated competition, mobile messaging apps need to adapt to changing consumer demands and localize their features to gain an edge.

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