How major phone carriers blew their chances to become WhatsApp

Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp does a good job of showing just how much the wireless carriers failed to capitalize on messaging. It was their game to lose, with SMS built in as the default messaging client on just about every phone. If they had drastically lowered their prices, they could be where WhatsApp is today. Instead, a new report from Ovum Ltd. shows just how much carriers are losing each year to alternative messaging clients.

Facebook Inc. (FB)’s $19 billion purchase of mobile-messaging startup WhatsApp Inc. is a stark reminder of how much money phone carriers are losing out on as competitors let users text and chat at no charge. Free social-messaging applications like WhatsApp cost phone providers around the world — from Vodafone Group Plc (VOD)to America Movil SAB (AMXL) and Verizon Communications Corp. — $32.5 billion in texting fees in 2013, according to research from Ovum Ltd. That figure is projected to reach $54 billion by 2016. As more customers have switched to smartphones with better Internet access, people are relying more on applications such as WhatsApp to communicate. Instant-messaging services have taken off outside the U.S. where carriers don’t throw unlimited texting into voice and data plans. The rise of these applications has offered a cheaper source of communication, especially for correspondence between different countries, undercutting the texts that had once been a key source of income for carriers worldwide.

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