Update: Reliance Communications has officially launched a prepaid plan ‘WhatsApp Plan’ for all Reliance GSM subscribers and ‘My College Plan’ for students across the country. With the plan, Reliance GSM subscribers can get  unlimited usage of WhatsApp and Facebook across the country for Rs. 16/month. To subscribe to the plan, Reliance GSM subscribers need to send an SMS “WA” or “WhatsApp” or “FB” or “Facebook” to 53739. RCOM has also confirmed that they have exclusively partnered with WhatsApp.

The ‘My College Plan’ also allows calls and SMS within the student specified group on the Reliance network at 5 paise per minute and also allows students to send a group SMS for Rs. 3 by texting the message to 51112.

Original article
September 26, 2012: It looks like Reliance Communications has launched a special tariff plan called ‘My College Plan’ targeting students in the country. (hat tip – @neerajarora)

Tariff Details: What’s Interesting about this plan is that Reliance is offering free Facebook and WhatsApp access for Rs 16/month along calls and text messages at 5p/SMS. Students can also send a group SMS at Rs 3/SMS by texting the messages to 51112. When we checked, the tariff seems to be available in 16 telecom circles including Assam, Bihar & Jharkand, Delhi, Gujarat, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai, and Uttar Pradesh among others. Students can check their respective college ID from the Reliance website and SMS SUB <college ID> to 51111 to subscribe to the plan.

Reliance notes that students can be a part of only one college group at a time and the plan auto-renews every 30 days. Also, any data consumed outside of Facebook and WhatsApp will be charged accordingly.

We are not quite sure on how Reliance has implemented this since smartphones have a single APN (Access Point Name), but we have seen several instances earlier where telcos had offered free access to a specific site. Facebook had earlier tied up with Reliance Communications to offer free access to Reliance subscribers. Airtel had also tied up with Twitter to offer its subscribers free access to Twitter from mobile.twitter.com for six months and MTS currently offers a social media plan through MBlaze, providing free access to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

First Telco deal? Correct us if we are wrong but we believe this is the first telco deal inked by WhatsApp in India, although there’s no official communication from WhatsApp and RCOM about the tie-up. Earlier in the month, it had inked a similar deal with the Hong Kong telco Three to offer unlimited access in Hong Kong and in 78 other countries at a nominal rate. We wonder if we will see more such operator deals in the future, considering that telcos are facing declining SMS revenues and a growth in the usage of data-based services.

This development also further strengthens the fact that data messaging services are slowly replacing SMS (read why), in the wake of SMS spam regulations and launch of several data messaging products like Bharti Softbank’s Hike, Imsy, Tencent’s WeChat and the more recently launched Micromax’s Hookup. However, it’s worth noting that WhatsApp has a significant advantage over these apps with a large user base. The company had recently claimed that it had sent over 10 billion messages in a single day.

It will also be interesting to see how this development will affect RIM’s BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) service, since that has been one of the major advantages for RIM to keep users latched on to the BlackBerry platform. BBM was already facing a stiff competition from other mobile P2P messaging platforms especially WhatsApp, due to its cross-platform nature and with more telcos pushing for WhatsApp, it could result in a further downfall for the company’s fortunes.

Related:

– Why Text Messaging Will Continue To Decline In India
Apurva Chaudhary contributed to this post.