Update: Neeraj Arora, Head of Business Development for WhatsApp informs us (via WhatsApp, incidentally), that the company now has 30 million user monthly active users in India.
Earlier Today: WhatsApp has inked its second telco deal in India: Tata Docmomo will offer unlimited WhatsApp usage to its subscribers, for Rs 15 for 15 days. The telco has pay per site plans, and while WhatsApp hasn’t yet made an appearance in that listing, a commercial uploaded on YouTube (here) has the details. Tata Docomo offers site plans to customers, with Gmail+Gtalk, Yahoo mail+Yahoo messenge, Rediffmail, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Orkut (people still use Orkut?) and Nimbuzz priced at Rs 10 for 200 MB over 30 days. In that context, WhatsApp, which would cost a customer Rs 30 for 30 days, does appear to have a higher pricing than others, even enough it is for unlimited usage.
Reliance Communications had, a little over a year ago, launched a WhatsApp plan for its GSM subscribers, pricing unlimited usage of WhatsApp for Rs 16 per month to its users, as a part of a promotional deal, as a part of a special tariff plan. It’s taken WhatsApp a year to close its second deal, and it’s possible that the exclusive arrangement with Reliance was for a year.
Neeraj Arora, business development head at WhatsApp had recently mentioned that the service has crossed 25 million monthly active users in India, up from 20 million in August 2013. This is still significantly (and surprisingly) smaller than the 84 million users (including Internet) that Facebook claims for the country. There still does appear to be a gap between the two, even on mobile: for Idea Cellular, for example, 15.6 million connections (not users) accessed Facebook from their mobile phone in the quarter ended September 30th 2013, while around 4.3 million accessed WhatsApp. Deals like the Tata Docomo one are essential for WhatsApp to grow their active user base.
What Determines Telco Pricing?
This begs the question: what determines how a telecom operator prices access to a service? While piece-mealed access to websites at a relatively lower cost (as opposed to Rs 195 per month for 2 GB from Airtel), does make the mobile Internet accessible to a larger base of people, and, in a sense, acts like a gateway drug leading to broader usage, differential pricing for access to different websites raises concerns of net neutrality, and offering preferential rates to one app or website over another.
Telecom operators are in a tricky position: they need services like WhatsApp to grow their data business, but some, like Idea Cellular, are still seeing it as a threat to SMS. Idea Cellular MD Himanshu Kampania had recently warned about the shift from SMS to WhatsApp and other messaging services, saying that while only around 36% of Idea’s connection base uses SMS, many high-usage SMS customers have shifted to Internet based messaging services. While the impact on revenues had not been significant, given that SMS only accounts for around 2.5-3.5% of Idea’s overall revenues, he did say that the company wanted to appraise investors of a potential threat in the future.
If you know what determines telecom operator pricing for access to services, do leave a comment, or let us know via email.