MTN targets 'free loading' WhatsApp

MTN has apologised over call centre disruptions. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
MTN has apologised over call centre disruptions. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Cape Town – Mobile operator MTN has fired a shot at popular chat application WhatsApp.

The operator fumed at the popularity of chat over the top (OTT) operators.

“You have these players which are getting huge benefit out of an industry without making any investment. How do we level the playing fields?” chief executive Mteto Nyati told Fin24.

Facebook-owned WhatsApp has grown in popularity in SA, replacing Mxit and BBM as the most popular chat application on smartphones.

Market tracker App Annie reveals that WhatsApp is the top downloaded application in SA, followed by Facebook Messenger, Facebook and Instagram.

Call for Icasa probe

“What have these over the top players invested in South Africa? Zero,” said Nyati.

MTN will have invested R10bn into its network by the end of 2015.

Nyati called for the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa to investigate OTT operators.

“Where we would like the regulator to be playing is making sure the playing fields are level between us, the network operators and the over the top players.”

Despite repeated efforts to contact Icasa for comment, officials from the regulator were unable to comment on whether they would conduct an investigation.

Facebook revealed that it was showing significant growth in its three key African markets: South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

There are 7.3 million daily active users in SA, but almost all of them (7 million) visit Facebook on a daily basis from mobile devices.

SMS  costs

The giant social network reported revenue of $4bn in the second quarter, up from $2.9bn in the same period in 2014. WhatsApp had revenue of $15m.

Twitter posted revenue growth of 61% to $502.4m in the second quarter of 2015, but that still translates to a loss of $136.7m.

“You have to regulate them because clearly they’re making a huge amount of revenue on top of the infrastructure that the operators have paid for. Somehow they have to contribute towards the building of this infrastructure,” Nyati argued.

A typical SMS in SA costs around 80c for less than 50KB of data, while lower end data bundles cost between 25c and 60c per megabyte. According to the GSMA, emails cost between 10KB and 50KB in data.

Nyati rejected a suggestion that zero-rated SMS would convince people to abandon OTT chat providers.

“Even if you make SMS zero, it doesn’t mean that people will stop using the other one.

“My view is that those services have been designed in such a way so they are so customer friendly. The fact that they end up being zero-rated is a different matter, but if you look at the uptake of WhatsApp, it’s so easy for the customer,” he added.

Nyati hinted that he is open to negotiations with OTT providers on how they could contribute to the network.

“We need to find a way of working with those players because they are providing services that our customers are looking for. We just need have an arrangement that is beneficial for both parties.”

How much extra would you pay to use WhatsApp on your smartphone? Click here to let us know.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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