IP messaging gathers pace but SMS still strong in certain markets
IP messaging is overtaking SMS as the main messaging service among mobile users, with adoption rates increasing rapidly across the world, driven by rising smartphone adoption. However, SMS usage levels are still significant in some developed markets where bundled tariffs featuring unlimited SMS were introduced before IP messaging services began to flourish.
IP messaging has now been widely adopted by smartphone users across all regions
According to the GSMA Intelligence Consumer Survey 2016, IP messaging is used more than SMS in 27 of the 56 markets surveyed, up from only 12 of 54 markets in 2015. Some 59% of adult mobile subscribers across the surveyed countries in 2016 said that they use IP messaging, and four in every five of those (48% of the total) use it more than SMS. Asia has the highest overall adoption rate. In Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar more than 90% of subscribers use IP messaging, as well as 85% of those in China. Markets in South and Central America also show consistently high adoption levels, with at least 80% of mobile subscribers using IP messaging in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
Looking at smartphone subscribers only, IP messaging adoption globally stands at 80%, with the level fairly uniform across all regions. Overall penetration of IP messaging in a market is clearly driven by smartphone adoption. For example, smartphone subscribers in Africa are typically keener on IP messaging than the global average, with Cameroon, Mozambique and Sierra Leone all at 84% adoption of smartphone subscribers. However, the lower levels of smartphone adoption in these markets drive overall IP messaging adoption down to just over 50% on average.
WhatsApp is the most popular messaging service, with 33% of respondents using it, followed by Facebook Messenger and WeChat, both at 23%. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger both passed 1 billion monthly active users during 2016, with WeChat (which operates exclusively in China) set to reach 1 billion in 2017 based on its current growth trajectory.
SMS retains its lead in markets that were early adopters of unlimited SMS bundles
Although increased IP messaging adoption has negatively affected SMS volumes around the world, the trends outlined in our 2015 report “The future of SMS in the evolving messaging market” are still valid. SMS still has a strong presence in many developed markets; for example, in Canada, the US, France, the UK, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Australia, more than three in five subscribers still use SMS more than IP messaging.
The point at which unlimited SMS was first introduced to markets is a significant factor in the level of substitution from SMS to IP messaging. For example, US operators were among the first to offer unlimited SMS bundles, before IP messaging services became popular. Our survey shows that more than two thirds of mobile subscribers in the US receive unlimited SMS from their provider, which helps explain why only 35% of those surveyed currently use IP messaging more than SMS.
Figure 1: Effect of unlimited SMS on IP messaging usage in developed markets
Source: GSMA Intelligence Consumer Survey 2016